China’s Latest Legal Crackdown

Jerome Cohen describes the two sides of proposed changes to China’s Criminal Procedure Law, which threaten to create “a murky, two-tiered legal regime” by improving protections for some while eroding them for others. From the U.S. Asia Law Institute:

The draft revision contains some significant encouraging changes. People suspected of ordinary crimes will be entitled to new rights, including prompt access to a lawyer and protection against coerced self-incrimination. There is also the right to have witnesses testify in court and be subject to cross-examination, to have police interrogations electronically recorded in some serious cases and to exclude from evidence confessions obtained by torture. Implementing these new rights will be challenging, but they signal a commitment to reaching China’s oft-stated goals of ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it signed in 1998, and establishing the rule of law.

Despite its positive aspects, the draft revision also embraces a more sinister agenda toward political outsiders. It will authorize, under Article 73, the practice of enforced disappearances of political offenders. While the practice has been employed for years, it was always technically illegal—until now. Under the draft, citizens can be secretly detained for up to six months on suspicion of “endangering national security” or “terrorism”—notoriously vague charges that have long been manipulated by police, prosecutors and courts. Article 73 is a blatant, open-ended attempt to authorize expanded political repression in the guise of concern for national security.

See more on the proposed Criminal Procedure Law changes, including reactions from Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers, via CDT.

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