China May Water Down Secret Detention Law

Proposed changes to China’s Criminal Procedure Law which threatened to give enforced disappearances “a thicker veneer of legality” and create “a murky, two-tiered legal regime” have been substantially weakened, according to AFP:

Chen [Guangzhong, honorary chairman of the China Legal Society] told AFP the latest draft of the law — to be voted on during the NPC’s session — now rules that police inform family members of the whereabouts of suspects arrested or placed under residential surveillance within 24 hours.

“This is a new breakthrough in the amendment and is an added safeguard for human rights. The draft should now have no problem in passing — there is an over 90 percent chance it will pass,” he told AFP.

But he cautioned that in the case of criminal detentions — legally different to arrests — police have been given a longer period of 37 days to inform families, if such a notification impedes their investigation.

Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told AFP “numerous (China-based) diplomatic sources” also told him Chinese officials had informed them the clauses would be removed.

“But I am quite skeptical about this mainly because they have refused to publish the draft amendment. The fact they are not disclosing the draft is an indication that it is still not settled,” he said.

Siweiluozi appeared more, though cautiously, optimistic:

Though I don’t have any way of confirming this independently, I consider Professor Chen to be a credible source. If he’s right and this reflects the wording of the final draft for submission to the NPC, I would have to conclude that this issue has been relatively settled among the stakeholders at this late stage—publication of the draft is not the relevant indicator, in my opinion ….

The result of all this appears to leave a “disappearance” clause in the provision on criminal detention. Detaining someone for 37 days without notifying anyone is still quite problematic, but 37 days is considerably shorter than six months and at least detentions of this type will have to take place within the (relatively) predictable confines of a detention center. Also, depending on the final wording, it’s very likely that, compared to current law, the revision will place substantial limits on the types of cases for which this kind of detention can be used.