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Campaign Against Secret Detentions

October 13, 2011

2011-10-03

The Chinese government aims to authorize detentions without informing family members.

AFP

Women hold pictures of their loved ones, alleged victims of injustices, outside the court trial of a rights activist in Beijing, Aug. 12, 2011.

Chinese lawyers, rights activists, and legal experts are mounting an online campaign against proposals to legalize secret detention currently being debated by the country's lawmakers.

China's parliamentary body, the National People's Congress (NPC), is currently debating amendments to the criminal law which could remove a current requirement to inform a person's relatives of their detention.

Rights activist Hu Jia and his wife and fellow activist Zeng Jinyan have already criticized the move in open letters and online opinions, while prominent rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan has sent a detailed critique of the proposed amendments to the NPC.

In a letter to a parliamentary committee considering the legal change, Hu said holding suspects in a secret location is a "painful torment" for the parents, spouse, and children of the person detained.

"This violates the minimum humanity of the suspect, who is not yet convicted by the law, and [of] his or her innocent family members," Hu said in the letter to the legislative working committee of the National People's Congress.

"Such KGB secret police-style Red Terror methods have been used not only on me but also a lot of people such as rights lawyers, dissidents, artists, petitioners, and family members of political criminals."

'Preserving stability'

Liu's letter was more detailed and technical, but his conclusion was the same as Hu's.

"We can't allow them to legalize 'being disappeared,'" Liu wrote on his Twitter account.

"It is my opinion that the clause allowing for the family to be left uninformed in the case of 'obstructions to the investigation' be deleted."

In his letter to the NPC, Liu described a clause in the draft revision dealing with "subversion" as being directed against citizens who criticize the government or the ruling Communist Party.

"This clause contravenes the right to freedom of expression which is in the Constitution," he wrote. "It is a bad law that will manufacture injustice and social division."

In a blog post on Monday, top legal expert Chen Youxi agreed.

"If the proposal to allow secret detentions enters into law, this will do serious damage to China's human rights image internationally," Chen wrote.

"This is a momentous question touching on the human rights boundaries of a nation," he said. "If it becomes law, it will have a long-lasting and fundamental effect [on society]."

"The new draft takes 'preserving stability' as its starting point, and it must be stopped," he said.

Support for critics

Both Liu and Chen's opinions, submitted to the NPC and republished on their blogs, drew dozens of comments, mostly supportive.

"This bill cannot be allowed to become law," wrote a user identified as "Xiaodi." "Otherwise, state power will continue to expand, and gradually fill our lives with terror."

A second commenter, "Wuchideluoben," said: "If this evil law gets passed it will show that the leaders of this country really are finished. People will not sit by and watch!"

Their views were endorsed by 14 other rights lawyers across China, some of whom also highlighted problems with proposals to formalize house arrest and surveillance of people in their daily lives.

Lawyer Li Jinglin said the proposed amendments to the criminal law would allow the authorities to put anyone under residential surveillance without the need for formal detention.

He said he thought the month-long consultation period was far too short.

"The fact that they have allocated such a short time to collecting people's opinions means that most people don't have a hope of contributing an opinion to legislation having to do with their personal safety," Li said.

Dozens 'disappeared'

Chinese authorities have launched an unprecedented crackdown on dissent around the country following online, anonymous calls early this year for a "Jasmine" revolution inspired by uprisings in the Middle East.

Dozens of activists have been "disappeared," sometimes for months at a time, according to Chinese rights groups, including prominent artist and social critic Ai Weiwei. Top rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has been missing for more than a year.

International rights groups say that "disappearances" render detainees more vulnerable to abuses like torture.

Chinese authorities also use house arrest, known in Chinese as "soft detention," as a means of containing and intimidating activists without resorting to criminal law.

Chen said that while police currently already hold people in secret detention past the legal time limit and without informing their families, they do not yet do so openly.

He said the relaxation of the rules of evidence would also legalize poor police practice.

"Mail surveillance, hacker attacks, bugging, secret filming, and secret searches are all part of current criminal investigations now, as a way of finding evidence," he said.

"These methods have been used all along in investigations, but never openly ... Evidence gathered in such a way has never been admissible in court."

He said the draft law made special mention of "technological investigation" in clauses 147-151, a move which Chen called "unprecedented."

Last week, Ai Weiwei's wife Lu Qing also sent a letter to the committee condemning the new law as slowing "China's progress toward civilization".

The consultation period for the proposed revisions, which garnered more than 68,000 electronic submissions via the NPC's official website, has now closed.

Reported in English by Luisetta Mudie and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese service.

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