A HOLE IN THE WALL CHINA DIARY - Neha Sahay Amazing as it may seem, the dreaded â€˜re-education through labourâ€™ system, called laojiao, is all set to go. There has been talk about its going since 2008; finally, a resolution was passed at the meeting of Party leaders recently abolishing it. Started under Mao to deal with â€œcounter-revolutionariesâ€, it has continued when the term itself has no relevance. The aim then was to make good communists out of reluctant ones. The aim now seems to be to put away undesirable people: those petitioning the authorities for justice, followers of the banned Falun Gong cult, drug addicts and petty criminals. No court order is required; the police decide whom to put away and for how long. The detention period can be as long as four years. The system has been criticized even in the official media. China Daily reported on an open letter to the government sent last year by 10 lawyers, asking that the judiciary be involved when depriving people of their freedom. Two provincial governments had started winding up laojiao cases, specially those involving â€œthreats to national securityâ€, â€œpetitioning by causing unrestâ€, and â€œsmearing the image of officialsâ€, even before the official decision was taken last week. Four recent cases brought the system into public focus. A woman was sentenced to laojiao for fighting tirelessly for her 11 year old daughter, who had been kidnapped, raped and forced into prostitution. After six years of appeals, came the final verdict: two accused were sentenced to death, four to life and one to 15 years. Alleging that the police had concealed evidence against some of the accused, the mother kept demonstrating in front of government offices, till the police decided she was â€œseriously disturbing social order and exerting a negative impact on societyâ€ and sent her to a labour camp for 18 months. Silent horror She immediately appealed against her detention, and was released within nine days. The reason given by the court was that her daughter, now 17, needed her. But it was the public outcry against her detention that decided her appeal. The woman sued for compensation. Two lower courts turned her down. But by then, top officials, including the prime minister, had started talking about doing away with laojiao. Six months after she appealed, the high court ordered the laojiao commission to pay her 2,641 yuan. The other case was even more shocking. A SARS patient, who escaped from quarantine in 2003, was sent to laojiao. His wife appealed against his detention and won, but the authorities refused to release him, causing him to have a breakdown. This time, his wife went to Beijing with her 12-year-old son, to petition the government. She was picked up, separated from her son (who has since been missing), sent back to her hometown and confined to an abandoned morgue for three years. She managed to put up a poster outside her window calling for help, and was released. Four officials responsible for her detention were sacked. The government agreed to pay the coupleâ€™s medical bills, give them a house and find their son. In the other two cases, the only offence was internet posts critical of the authorities. One of them was released halfway through his term, when he appealed; but the other was exonerated only after he had served his two year sentence. Despite a member of the top legislature calling laojiao a â€œdisgrace to Chinaâ€™s national imageâ€, the official media have not reported on conditions inside the camps. A magazine exposÃ© of a womenâ€™s camp describing torture, long hours of forced and unpaid labour, inedible and inadequate food and no medical treatment was taken off the internet. Authorities acknowledged they were looking into the allegations. A hole in the wall ************************************************************************** It is so unfortunate that the people of China has no Justice system worth its name. The Laojiao was but a system to lock away those who were an embarrassment to the Chinese Communist system that wanted to project to its own people and the world that China epitomises happiness, wealth, upward mobility, stability, harmony and was but the cradle of civilisation itself! Thus the 'real' China, its ugly face that to be hidden from public and international view. The aim was simple - put away the undesirable people, who were not robotic enough to aimlessly weave their way through the path of life as per the Communist diktats! These cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Yet, they indicate the horrors of being a citizen of China. The Party and the Police are Supreme! They are the Law and the citizens be damned!