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Condemning the Laogai

Location: Washington, DC

CONDEMNING THE LAOGAI -- (House of Representatives - December 14, 2005)

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to the concurrent resolution (H. Con. Res. 294) calling on the international community to condemn the Laogai, the system of forced labor prison camps in the People's Republic of China, as a tool for suppression maintained by the Chinese Government, as amended.


Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of this resolution which calls for the condemnation of the vast Laogai labor system of more than 1,000 prisons, camps and mental institutions maintained by the government of the People's Republic of China, and of the use of forced labor as an integral part of China's economy.

I would note parenthetically that, back in 1992, the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Wolf) and I gained access to one of those prison camps, Beijing Prison Camp Number 1, a horrible place where 40 Tiananmen Square activists were being punished for their peaceful activities. Hundreds of others were also imprisoned there for political, religious and other alleged crimes. The place reeked of cruelty and sadness and was a nightmarish insight into the dark soul of the Chinese Communist dictatorship. Today, sadly, the Laogai continues its cruelty unabated.

Indeed, the continued operation of this network of Stalinist camps within China's borders raises grave questions about Beijing's commitment to engage in reform even after it seeks to be recognized as a leader among the community of nations.

The Laogai, which was created by the Chinese Communist party under Mao Zedong and modelled after the Soviet Gulag system, serves the one-party dictatorship as a tool to maintain control of a population yearning to be free. The Laogai system has tormented more than 50 million people since its founding and still contains as many as 4 million prisoners today. It not only provides the government a source of cheap labor, it also serves to instill fear in its citizens lest they be forced to go through ``reeducation'' through hard labor and compulsory political indoctrination.

The low cost of maintaining these prisons provides additional incentive for the PRC to continue its use of the Laogai system. The use of slave labor to manufacture a product for export as an integral part of its economy represents not only a violation of international law and labor standards but represents an unfair trade practice which widens the trade deficit and threatens American jobs.

As is so common in authoritarian regimes, the PRC represses freedom of religion and expression through this system of more than 1,000 prisons. As we know, Mr. Speaker, these prisoners are given no legal rights and are often tortured in order to induce confessions. All Laogai prisoners are forced to labor in order to remake them as new socialist persons. New arrivals are subjected to immediate, daily, lengthy interrogation sessions and forced to admit their ``crimes.'' These sessions may last days, weeks and even months. In some cases, they last years. If a prisoner resists, he or she is tortured.

The horrifying trade in human organs from China is the latest development of the Laogai system. The organs of more than 1,000 executed prisoners have reportedly been harvested for money. In the 1990s and to the year 2005, as part of the series of about 24 Congressional hearings that I have chaired on human rights abuses in China, I conducted one extraordinary hearing on this grizzly business. In that hearing, with the help of the great Harry Wu, a survivor of the Laogai himself, we heard from a former PRC police officer who testified and brought compelling proof as to how prisoners were shot, but not killed, and moved to awaiting ambulances to begin the process of removing their organs for transplantation.

The practice reminded me and many others in that hearing of the atrocities committed by the infamous Nazi, Dr. Joseph Mengele.

Despite numerous human rights treaties, Mr. Speaker, to which the PRC is a signatory, the government continues to use the Laogai as a means to suppress groups such as the Falun Gong and other religious believers, but in the case of the Falun Gong, up to 50 percent of the Laogai prisoner population is made up of those individuals.

Cyber dissidents and journalists are increasingly being crushed by the Laogai system as well. As in the case of Shi Tao, a journalist who is now serving a 10-year forced labor sentence at a jewelry factory attached to the Chishan prison for sending an e-mail through his Yahoo account warning journalists of the dangers of social destabilization and the risks of return of certain dissidents on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

I point out to my colleagues, and I hope that each and every one of you will read this, there is a very, very strong statement on torture by the U.N. rapporteur on torture who has just finished his report, Manfred Nowak.

He said that the abuse of suspects and prisoners remains widespread. His report describes some of the torture methods used by China's police and prison officers to extract confessions and maintain discipline: Emersion in sewage, sleep deprivation, cigarette burns and beating with electric prods. Not surprisingly, Mr. Nowak also accused the Chinese officials of systematically interfering with his investigations.

Victims and family members were intimidated by security personnel during the visit, placed under surveillance or instructed not to meet with Mr. Nowak. Among the prisoners, Mr. Nowak said he observed ``a palpable level of fear and self-censorship'' that he had not seen in missions in other countries.

One cannot be optimistic given recent events, but killings by gunfire last week of at least 20 residents in the village of Dongzhou in southern China by Beijing's security forces is further evidence that China has a long way to go in achieving the rule of law.

The cold-blooded murder of these villagers protesting over land use and the corruption demonstrates clearly that, 16 years after Tiananmen Square, Chairman Mao's famous dictum that ``all political power comes from the barrel of the gun'' is still the credo of Beijing's leaders.

Those among our friends in Europe who seek removal of an arms embargo against China should reflect on the use of guns and bullets to kill the innocent villagers in Dongzhou and to keep 4 million inmates, many prisoners of conscience, locked up in the vast Laogai system.

This resolution sends a strong message, and I urge its passage.


Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I thank my good friend the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) for his very eloquent statement. This is an issue that very few Americans, very few lawmakers are really aware of, and it is about time the gross cruelty of the Laogai become much more well-known and action needs to be taken.


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