Comment on China's New Criminal Procedure Law

15 Mar 2012 by in Criminal Defense
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China's legislature has approved revisions to a key criminal law that will restrict police powers to secretly detain people, at least on paper.

The changes to the criminal procedure law were the most high-profile ones approved Wednesday on the last day of the annual National People's Congress. The Communist Party-controlled body also approved the budget for this year that calls for a boost in domestic consumption to keep the economy expanding while overseas markets remain weak.

Some scholars have welcomed the criminal procedure changes, saying they will offer better protection of suspects and reflect increasing awareness in China of the need for stronger detainee rights, although enforcement of many laws in China is spotty.

Detentions in unofficial locations such as hotels or guesthouses in China are well-documented. Last year many people -- from renowned artist Ai Weiwei to rights lawyers and petitioners -- were illegally held in locations away from formal detention areas, sometimes for months.

 
But critics say the amendments to China's Criminal Procedure Law would legalise the practice for people considered a threat to the Communist Party such as political dissidents, dozens of whom were detained last year.
 
The bill was passed at the final session of the National People's Congress, with 2,639 delegates voting in favour of the amendments. Only 160 lawmakers opposed the bill, and 57 abstained from the vote.
 
"The legislation would provide dangerous exemptions from due process for entire categories of criminal suspects, including those who simply wish to peacefully express their opinion," Amnesty International said in a statement.
 
The proposed amendments caused a storm of protest from rights groups and judicial reformers when details first emerged in 2011, and have since been watered down.
 
A new clause in the latest draft would oblige police to inform relatives of those held outside formal detention centres within 24 hours of their detention, although it is not clear whether the location would be disclosed.

China uses three methods of locking up suspects -- formal arrest, formal detention and "residential surveillance", which can be at home or in other locations, usually hotels or guesthouses.
 
In the first two cases, suspects are held in formal areas of detention such as police stations or prisons.
 
The controversy focuses mainly on the latter, where there is little accountability and where critics say police may feel freer to use torture.
 
The amended law for the first time includes a clause to allow police to hold some people under "residential surveillance" away from home for up to six months.
 
This form of detention is limited to people suspected of terrorism, endangering national security or serious bribery, where holding them under surveillance at their homes would impede investigations.
 
But activists point out that the charge of endangering national security is not clearly defined, and is regularly used to silence government critics.
 
Rights groups and legal scholars however say other amendments to the criminal law are positive.

Read 1655 times Last modified on Thursday, 15 March 2012 04:04
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