China Legalizes Secret Detentions

A controversial law will allow authorities to hold 'national security' suspects without informing relatives.

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Chinese dissident Hu Jia at his home in Beijing, June 27, 2011.

Former political detainees have hit out at the passage of a law by China's parliament allowing the secret detention of certain types of criminal suspects, including those accused of vaguely worded "national security" crimes and of terrorism.

China's National People's Congress (NPC) passed the amended version of its Criminal Procedure Law on Wednesday with the backing of 92 percent of the 2,872 delegates present at the closing session.

It will allow "residential surveillance" for up to six months of people suspected of "national security" crimes, which are often used to silence dissidents, and of terrorist activities, accusations which are sometimes leveled at peaceful opponents of Chinese rule in Xinjiang.

In such cases, police will be under no obligation to inform a detained person's family of their whereabouts if they decide that informing relatives could "hinder investigations."

Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, who was himself held under secret residential surveillance for as long as 41 days by state security police, said the law has effectively legalized "disappearances" of political and human rights activists.

"This law is effectively a terror law, because it actually creates an atmosphere of fear," Hu said. "It is telling anyone who criticizes the Chinese government that they can be arrested at any time without the need to inform their relatives for six months."

"It would be frightening enough if they could lock us up for three days," he said. "That would be enough to force someone to sign a guarantee admitting they did something wrong."

Opposition by lawyers, activists

Beijing-based rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who was held at an unknown location for 60 days last year in a crackdown on activists sparked by the Arab Spring, said the amended law had been passed in spite of loud opposition from Chinese lawyers and rights experts.

"Such detentions wouldn't take place at a detention center, but at some secret location," Jiang said. "This means that people who have been 'disappeared' have absolutely no protection of their rights, and they can be held for up to six month."

"Quite frankly, I find this terrifying," said Jiang, who was subjected to five days' sleep deprivation and humiliation during his 'disappearance' last February.

Guangzhou-based online activist Ye Du said the amended law would have a terrible effect on political dissent in China.

"There is even a clause allowing forced disappearances," Ye said. "Also provision for the authorities to use technological surveillance methods to monitor people's phone calls and e-mail."

"We will all now be even more vulnerable to being disappeared," he said.

Increase in detentions

Last year saw a sharp increase in the use of arbitrary detention and torture by Chinese authorities against rights activists, according to the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).

The group said in its annual report on March 10 that it had documented 3,833 incidences of individuals arbitrarily detained for their work in defense of human rights and 159 incidences of torture during such detentions in 2011.

Rights groups and lawyers in China and overseas have spoken out against the amendments, and a clause extending the power of secret detention to all criminal suspects was removed before Wednesday's vote.

According to Hangzhou-based rights lawyer Wang Cheng, the law contravenes China's obligations under international conventions on human rights, and was in conflict with its own constitution.

"Now, the police can use the requirements of the investigation as an excuse not to inform the families [of detainees]," Wang said. "This is totally wrong."

He said the law should take the protection of citizens as its starting point. "This clause should have been taken out as well," he said.

'Clear danger for critics'

Sophie Richardson, China Director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on the group's website that the government's stated aim of improving due process was undercut by the provision.

"Such provisions represent a clear danger for government critics and human rights activists, and are in clear contravention of China’s international obligations," Richardson said.

However, China's state-run media lauded the newly amended legislation as a step forward for human rights protection,

In an article titled "Law to ensure human rights," the English-language China Daily reported that "controversial" clauses permitting secret detention of suspects had been removed in response to public fears of official abuses of power.

However, it made no mention of the use of national security charges which are frequently used by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to jail its critics, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year jail term for "incitement to subvert state power."

Guizhou-based rights activist Chen Xi, Sichuan-based Chen Wei, Wuhan-based Li Tie and Hangzhou-based Zhu Yufu were all handed jail terms upwards of seven years in recent weeks for "incitement to subvert state power," in the wake of a nationwide crackdown on activists sparked by online calls for a "Jasmine revolution."

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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