Chi­nese cops may get OK to dis­ap­pear peo­ple

Could se­cretly de­tain sus­pects

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY ALEXA OLE­SEN

BEI­JING | China is pre­par­ing to over­haul a key crim­i­nal law amid public con­fu­sion — and some dread — over whether the gov­ern­ment is about to give po­lice the le­gal au­thor­ity to dis­ap­pear peo­ple.

At is­sue is an amend­ment to the crim­i­nal pro­ce­dure law that would al­low po­lice to se­cretly de­tain sus­pects for months with­out in­form­ing their fam­i­lies.

The ef­fect would be to le­gal­ize the se­cret de­ten­tions po­lice in­creas­ingly have been us­ing against po­lit­i­cal crit­ics, ac­tivist lawyers and other dis­si­dents.

Ac­tivist Hu Jia, him­self liv­ing un­der a form of house ar­rest, has dubbed it the “KGB clause.”

The pro­posed pow­ers, when first mooted in a draft re­leased last sum­mer, caused an up­roar among le­gal schol­ars, who called them dan­ger­ous, and or­di­nary Chi­nese, who posted com­ments on­line to the gov­ern­ment’s draft by the tens of thou­sands.

Now, as the na­tional leg­is­la­ture pre­pares to pass the re­vised law dur­ing its an­nual ses­sion that starts Mon­day, it isn’t clear whether the pro­posed changes are still in the bill. New drafts have not been re­leased, as is typ­i­cal in China.

One well-con­nected scholar claims the clause has been ex­cised out, but oth­ers say it’s un­cer­tain or won’t say.

Chi Shusheng, a law­maker and lawyer from Hei­longjiang prov­ince with a rep­u­ta­tion for de­fend­ing hu­man rights, said she last saw the re­vised law in Jan­uary.

“I think there’s been some progress,” Ms. Chi said with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

Mem­bers of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress le­gal com­mit­tee, who ad­vise the draft­ing of the law, de­clined to talk.

“Wait un­til the final ver­sion comes out,” said Zhou Guangquan, a le­gal scholar and com­mit­tee mem­ber. “It’s not con­ve­nient for me to dis­cuss it now.”

Chi­nese laws gen­er­ally are crafted by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment be­hind closed doors with lit­tle public con­sul­ta­tion, though there have been ex­per­i­ments with in­creased trans­parency in re­cent years.

The pre­cise rea­sons for the se­crecy aren’t en­tirely clear, but seem borne out of habit and ex­pe­di­ency.

Be­hind the un­cer­tainty is a tug of war be­tween peo­ple who think China needs greater le­gal pro­tec­tions to keep ad­vanc­ing, and the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment and politi­cians who see a strong Com­mu­nist Party as the best guar­an­tee of the coun­try’s con­tin­u­ing suc­cess.

Chi­nese so­ci­ety, poor and egal­i­tar­ian 30 years ago, has been strat­i­fied as decades of eco­nomic re­forms cre­ate droves of mil­lion­aires and push up a new mid­dle class while leav­ing be­hind oth­ers. Peo­ple in­creas­ingly turn to the law to pro­tect their rights and to protest when other meth­ods don’t work.

More open Chi­nese me­dia and the In­ter­net have raised aware­ness about mis­car­riages of jus­tice, such as wrong­ful con­vic­tions, and the need for le­gal safe­guards.

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