China Inaugurates Legal Semi-Secret Detention

Zhu Chengzhi may have become the first to be detained under new amendments to China’s Criminal Procedure Law. Amid fierce criticism, the changes passed through the National People’s Congress by a vote of 2,639 to 160 in March last year, and came into effect on New Year’s Day. The new Article 73 allows some prisoners to be held in an undisclosed location for up to six months without access to a lawyer, but does require that families be notified of their detention. From Sui-Lee Wee at Reuters:

Authorities in Shaoyang city in central Hunan province told family members of Zhu Chengzhi, 62, last Friday that he would be put under “residential surveillance” under “Article 73″, Zhu’s wife, Zeng Qiulian, told Reuters by telephone on Monday. Article 73 legalizes detaining people in secret.

[…] Article 73 legalizes a practice that began in earnest in 2011. Fearing that anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world could inspire challenges to Communist rule, the government unlawfully held dozens of activists, including artist Ai Weiwei, for weeks or months in secret detention.

[…] Police had charged Zhu with “incitement to subvert state power” after he posted photos online following the death of his friend, Li Wangyang, who was found in a hospital ward in Shaoyang, his neck tied with a noose made from cotton bandages.

Authorities said it was suicide – a verdict that angered thousands of scholars, lawyers and activists.

See more on Li’s case via CDT. Zhu had already been held for over six months since his detention on June 9th, days after Li’s death. A fuller account of Zhu’s story is available at the Dui Hua Human Rights Journal:

Public criticism over the “disappearance clauses” may have ultimately contributed to some salutary changes to the legislation, including the removal of exemptions for providing notification of residential surveillance (but not carrying out residential surveillance in a designated residence). Under the revised CPL, which took effect on January 1, 2013, police are thus required to give notice to relatives within 24 hours of all individuals being subjected to “non-residential residential surveillance.” This limits the ability of police to make an individual disappear without a trace, but the practice of non-residential residential surveillance remains deeply problematic, even though its inclusion in the CPL has given it a veneer of legitimacy.

This situation is illustrated by the case of Zhu Chengzhi, who, according to Zhu’s defense lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, is likely to be the first person in China to be placed in this form of residential surveillance (the number of the notice issued by local police is “A01”) since the new CPL took effect earlier this month. Zhu, age 62, was detained in June 2012 by police in Shaoyang, Hunan, after he allegedly disseminated information that raised doubts about local authorities’ official finding of suicide in the death of his friend and long-time political prisoner Li Wangyang (李旺阳). After reportedly refusing to sign a guarantee that he would cease his efforts to draw attention to suspicions surrounding Li’s death, Zhu was placed under criminal detention on suspicion of “inciting subversion,” charges for which he was formally arrested on July 25, 2012.

After five months of incommunicado detention, Zhu’s case was transferred to prosecutors on December 25. On January 4 (the first day of business for Chinese government offices following the New Year’s Day holiday), Zhu’s wife, Zeng Qiulian, retained Liu Xiaoyuan to represent her husband. That same day, the Shaoyang People’s Procuratorate handed the case back to police for additional investigation, and police decided to place Zhu under residential surveillance and delivered an official notification (translated below) to his wife.

See more on the controversy over Article 73 and other CPL amendments via CDT, including reactions from cartoonists and weibo users.