China's Guangzhou to empty labour camps 'by year end'

File photo of inmates at a labour camp in Bajing town in Jiangxi province, 27 September 2012. China's labour camps were set up in the 1950s

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The last 100 inmates are to be released from labour camps in one of China's biggest cities, Guangzhou, by the end of the year, state media report.

The city stopped sending new prisoners to the controversial camps in March.

The police can send suspects for re-education for up to four years without a trial.

China's leaders have said they intend to reform the nationwide system - but labour camps still operate across most of the country.

"The police and many legal experts have realised the drawbacks of 'laojiao' and called to abolish the system," a senior judge in Guangzhou, Yu Mingyong, told the China Daily. 'Laojiao' is the Chinese phrase for reform through education.

The system was introduced by the ruling Communist Party in China in the 1950s and is used to lock up petty criminals.

But it is also a convenient way to get rid of people considered to be troublemakers, such as dissidents, the BBC's Michael Bristow says.

The system gives the police immense power. Many argue they use this in an arbitrary manner.

The Chinese authorities have been hinting for some years that they intend to reform the system, which a few years ago was reported to have 350 camps and about 150,000 prisoners.

Those expectations were re-awakened earlier this year by comments from Li Keqiang in his first press conference as the country's new premier.

"The relevant authorities are working intensively on the plan to reform the re-education-through labour system. The plan might be unveiled before the end of the year," he said.

No national plan has yet been announced. But there are indications that some local authorities are reforming the system in their own areas.

As well as Guangzhou, the southern Chinese province of Yunnan said it would no longer send people to re-education camps for three types of political offences.

And in Hunan province in July, a mother, Tang Hui, won compensation after being sent to a camp for complaining about the sentences given to attackers who raped her daughter.

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