House arrest victim longs to reunite family

CNC reporting from Heilongjiang
Added On January 27, 2013

A Chinese woman has been locked in a house for more than three years after complaining about her husband's detention.

This is Dailing district of the Yichun city in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, where Chen Qingxia has been locked for more than three years.

Chen and her family first felt the pain of re-education through labor about ten years ago.

In 2003, Chen's husband was sentenced to one year and nine months in a re-education through labor camp for destroying public property.

SOUNDBITE: CHEN QINGXIA
"My husband was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2001 following a dispute with a neighbor. And we believe his mental condition should've been considered in his sentence. But it's not."

After her husband served his sentence, Chen and her family traveled to Beijing in 2007 to protest his treatment.

However, more tragedy awaited her in the capital.

Government staff from Yichun separated her from her only son when they traveled to Beijing in 2007 to protest.

Her son is still missing till now.

And Chen herself was sentenced to one year and eight months in a re-education for labor camp in her home city as punishment for protesting.

Although she was permitted to leave the camp around the end of 2008, the local government was not yet ready to truly set her free.

They settled her in a house that formerly served as a mortuary, where she has lived ever since.

SOUNDBITE: CHEN QINGXIA
"I'm monitored by government staff and is not allowed to leave the house. They will lose their jobs if I run away."
Public criticism of the re-education through labor system has mounted following several recent incidents.

Last August, a woman in central China's Hunan province was sentenced to 18 months in a labor camp after demanding tougher penalties for the seven men convicted of abducting, raping and prostituting her 11-year-old daughter.

Tang Hui was released within a week following complaints from academics, state media and the public.

It was announced at a national political and legal work conference held in early January that the government will work to reform the re-education through labor system this year.

The local district government, pressured by mounting public criticism regarding Chen's case, said late Thursday that it will take care of her out of humanitarian concerns.

Local authorities say they have found a new apartment for Chen to live in and is looking for her lost son.

The local government has also agreed to cover all of Chen's medical and living expenses.

Local police and authorities have set up a joint investigation team to review Chen's case.

The re-education through labor system was approved by the top legislature and established in the 1950s, a time when the Chinese Communist Party was consolidating the newly founded People's Republic and rectifying social order.

But many experts believe it contradicts higher-level laws, including the constitution.

It allows police to detain people for up to four years without trial.

Data from the Bureau of Re-education Through Labor shows 160,000 people were held in 350 labor centers nationwide by the end of 2008.