More Chinese Dissidents Appear to Disappear

The New York Times reports on the Chinese government’s increasingly common practice of making dissidents “disappear,” by detaining them with no official notice of their whereabouts, and on efforts to make the practice legal:

The Beijing artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, who vanished into police custody on April 3 and did not emerge until June 22, is but the most famous Chinese activist to suffer an “enforced disappearance,” as human rights officials call such episodes. Experts say 2011 has seen a sharp and worrisome increase inside China of a security tactic that a United Nations international convention has sought to outlaw.

Now China is answering complaints by rights activists that the disappearances of those and other Chinese are unlawful and potentially inhumane: It is rewriting the national criminal procedure code to make them legal.

The new proposal, drafted by a committee of the National People’s Congress, the nation’s quasi-legislature, is undergoing public review. It would amend the current code, which allows government authorities to place criminal suspects under house arrest for up to six months. The proposed revision would allow them to imprison in a secret location anyone who, under home surveillance, is found to hinder an investigation. Suspects’ families would have to be told of their disappearance within 24 hours — unless doing so would hinder the investigation of crimes involving national security or terrorism.

Critics described the proposed revision as one of the most explicit backward steps in legal protections for people who offend the Chinese authorities since the country began moving toward the semblance of a Western-style legal system three decades ago. It would give security officials wide leeway to “disappear” dissidents and other activists without telling anyone — in other words, it would legalize Chinese officials’ current practices.


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