Even so, it lands in the middle of a debate about how and when to reform a much-disliked practice. Labor re-education is a small part of the wider penal system and allows police to imprison people for as long as four years without a court trial or judge's review. Critics say the lack of judicial review violates the constitution and in recent years has increasingly been used by police to silence ordinary Chinese petitioning to redress grievances against local officials.
The new Communist Party leadership installed in November has said it will reform the system and has promised to introduce plans to do so by the end of the year. Some legal experts say the Lens report should add to the momentum for change.
"I have heard about irregularities in the system, but this report exceeded the baseline of what I knew," said law professor Hou Xinyi of Nankai University in the city of Tianjin. "I doubt if the top leadership knows the situation on the ground. If the claims are true, this report will help the government firm up their determination to resolve the problem."