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China sets thousands of prisoners free as labour camps close

China had promised to close it's "re-education" camps in 2007

The Chinese Government has closed a number of labour camps on the outskirts of Beijing, and released tens of thousands of people who were imprisoned without trial, it has been reported.

Four out of six camps in Daxing have been shut, while one was made into a drug rehabilitation centre, and another integrated into another local prison, according to the Telegraph.

However, campaigners have expressed concerns that the rehabilitation centres are merely renamed prison camps where drug addicts have been moved from labour camps.

In 2007, China had pledged to stop the practice of “re-education through labour” that Chairman Mao introduced to punish those seen as opponents to the Communist regime, including political and religious dissidents.

Prisoners were allegedly often made to work as slaves in mines, factories and farms.

Human rights activists are concerned that camps would be re-labelled elsewhere or that prisoners would be transferred to mental hospitals or secret jails against their will.

But former prisoners told Telegraph journalists that the prisons had been closed and they had not been re-located to different camps.

Mr Zhang, an official at Beijing’s Labour Camps Bureau told the newspaper that the government had voted in December to release all prisoners. “I can be very sure there is no one left inside,” Mr Zhang said.

He declined reporters access to the camps, and would not clarify how many camps there were in Beijing or in the country as a whole. He also would not disclose the number of prisoners that were released.

Jiang Chengfen, a 40-year-old farmer from Sichuan who served a year in a labour because she criticised the regime, told the Telegraph that she had been released abruptly without completing her prison sentence.

“I was quite puzzled,” she said. “They did not tell me I was being released, just to go downstairs because someone had come to see me. It was my husband. They had brought him but also not told him I was being released. I had to change my clothes and they pushed me out.”

Human Rights Watch said that at the beginning of 2013 there were 160,000 people in Chinese labour camps.

The newspaper reported that the majority of labour camps have been replaced by “community correction” facilities where alleged offenders who have their communications monitored must attend drop-in centres.