26 August 2011

China Set to "Legalize" Enforced Disappearance?

On her Forgotten Archipelagoes blog, Flora Sapio has compiled a most useful summary of some of the proposed revisions currently being considered for China's Criminal Procedure Law. Since the text of the draft itself has not been made public, our understanding of what might be included must be based on various media reports, for which Flora helpfully provides many links.

One of those links in particular caught my eye. According to this article on the Legal Daily website, the draft legislation includes a new exception to the provision on residential surveillance that would allow police to detain suspects in a "designated residence" other than their home in state security, terrorism, or major corruption cases "where carrying out residential surveillance in the home may impede the investigation." Such a decision would need to be approved by the procuratorate or public security organ at a higher level. And, again, in state security and terrorism cases, the police would not be required to provide notification to the suspect's family "if such notification would impede the investigation."

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.

It's ironic, given that "residential surveillance" is actually intended to be the least restrictive coercive measure available to police investigators. Indeed, the article above concludes with experts saying that the proposed revisions concerning residential surveillance (which include other, more sensible changes) represent an effort to safeguard citizens' individual rights.

If you're accused of one of China's many vague state security offenses, though, your rights apparently mean little compared to the interest of the state.

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