Chinese teacher who posted pictures of collapsed schools after earthquake sent to labor camp

A rights group said Wednesday that a teacher who posted pictures online of schools that collapsed when a massive earthquake hit Sichuan province in May has been sent to a labor camp for one year.

Human Rights in China said Liu Shaokun had been ordered to serve a year of "reeducation through labor," a system that sidesteps the need for a criminal trial or a formal charge.

It said in a statement that Liu, a teacher at Guanghan Middle School in Deyang city, was detained on June 25 for "disseminating rumors and destroying social order." His wife was told one week ago that he had been sent to a labor camp.

The May 12 earthquake killed nearly 70,000 people, including thousands of children who died when their shoddily built schools collapsed. The issue has become a sensitive political issue for the government, with parents of dead children staging protests demanding investigations. In recent weeks they have also been subjected to intimidation and financial inducements to silence them.

"Instead of investigating and pursuing accountability for shoddy and dangerous school buildings, the authorities are resorting to reeducation through labor to silence and lock up concerned citizens like teacher Liu Shaokun and others," said Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom.

The group said Liu's family has not been able to see him since he was detained.

An official at the Communist Party's propaganda office in Guanghan said he had not heard of the case. He would give only his surname Tang as is common among Chinese bureaucrats.

Another official with the general office of the Guanghan school said Liu had been working there since 2002.

"He was detained late last month by people from national security bureau for deliberately inciting families of victims to petition and disseminating anti-government rumors. They searched his home and found evidence," said the official, who refused to give his name.

The reeducation through labor system has been widely criticized by the United Nations, the European Union and other organizations, who say it should be abolished as part of Beijing's acceptance of international legal norms.

The system, in place since 1957, allows police to incarcerate a crime suspect for up to four years. Critics say it is misused to detain political or religious activists, and violates suspects' rights.