This spring, several lawyers and activists, such as artist Ai Weiwei, were secretly detained by authorities in China with no official explanation of their whereabouts. Human rights activists and others spoke out against the Chinese government for this apparent violation of Chinese law. Now, the National People’s Congress is considering the Criminal Procedure Law to make such detentions legal. From the Los Angeles Times:
The change would essentially enshrine what has become a common practice for silencing dissidents, many of whom have disappeared for months without formal charges being filed. Under the change, the suspects could be held without their family members or lawyers being notified.
The proposed change in the law was disclosed last week in the respected Legal Daily.
“This new amendment will legalize ‘forced disappearance,'” Beijing attorney Liu Xiaoyuan wrote on Twitter on Saturday. Liu was briefly detained around the same time as his friend and client Ai Weiwei, the dissident artist whose arrest this spring made international headlines.
Under current law, a person suspected of a crime but not formally charged could be put under house arrest for six months.
The amendment would allow the “residential detention” to be moved to an undisclosed location in “special cases involving national security, terrorism and major bribery, if detaining the suspect at his home will put an obstacle on solving the case,” the legal newspaper reported. The location would not be a “regular detention center or police station.”
Based solely on what has been written here, this is a rather shocking development. It means that, for example, individuals suspected of “inciting subversion,” can be taken into custody by police and held in a designated location (as long as it’s not a place of detention) for up to six months without any need to notify anyone of their whereabouts or the charges against them. All on the pretext of “impeding the investigation,” a vague criterion that police investigating these types of cases should have little difficulty convincing their superiors of.
Readers of this blog (among others) will recognize that were this to become law, it would essentially give legal cover to the sort of enforced disappearance that befell Liu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei, Liu Shihui, and others. Rather than closing the loopholes that police have been using to engage in this sort of activity, China’s legislators seem set to legitimize it.