Foreigners Sentenced to “Reeducation through Labor” in China?

Human Rights Watch has interviewed two foreigners sentenced in Yunnan, China, to reeducation through labor (RTL or laojiao). Both had been stopped by police for a roadside urine test, were told they tested positive for drug use, and were sentenced the same day.

According to one of the men, who denied using drugs:

They took me in a police car to the police station…. And then they said I had to go to prison for two years. I speak only a little Chinese. They used a translator…. After they told me my two-year sentence, there was no time for me to talk or to ask anything because the translator left immediately….

While in detention, one was put to work sewing women’s clothes by hand. The other was assigned to cut jade stones.

According to the June 2012 report from Human Rights Watch, both men are from Burma. They were released after three months upon making a payment to authorities.

RTL enables Public Security to sentence a person to detention for up to three years detention without a judicial hearing of any kind.  According to one Justice Bureau official, in 2009 China had 320 RTL administrative detention centers with 190,000 prisoners, although other estimates are higher. RTL is imposed for minor offenses such as petty theft, fighting, shoplifting, vandalism, and drug abuse.

This month, following protests by netizens, Chinese authorities released a mother named Tang Hui, who had been sentenced to RTL for campaigning for harsher sentences for the seven men convicted of abducting, raping and prostituting her 11-year-old daughter.


  1. From Siweiluozi: MPS regulations clearly prohibit foreigners from being sent to RTL. (See: However, as far as I can tell, there are no restrictions concerning compulsory drug treatment. Because compulsory drug treatment centers are frequently located within RTL facilities, this may give the impression that a foreigner is being sent to RTL, when in fact, technically, they are being sent to compulsory drug treatment. That’s my hypothesis, at least.

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