By Benjamin Cost
In response to vehement protest, the National People’s Congress plans to abridge proposed legislation that would’ve allowed authorities to secretly detain those suspected of terrorism and national security threats.
The AFP reports:
These [disappearance] clauses ruled that police did not have to tell family the whereabouts of suspects arrested, detained or under surveillance in national security, terrorism or major graft cases, if such notifications impeded a criminal probe.
Additionally, suspects could remain in custody for up to six months with no formal charges.
Human rights activists grew concerned that the secret nature of the detention centers – which consist of houses rather than formal police stations – could allow authorities to treat suspects inhumanely:
“If you are taking somebody elsewhere than a lawfully supervised place of detention without notice, it greatly increases the risk of torture,” said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch.
Others compared the clauses to the procedures employed by the Soviet Union’s KGB. Of course, China is no stranger to secret detentions, but many believe the clauses would lend legal legitimacy to human rights violations.
The accusations undoubtedly struck a chord as the National People’s Congress has amended the clause:
[Chen Guangzhong, honorary chairman of the China Legal Society] told AFP the latest draft of the law — to be voted on during the NPC’s session — now rules that police inform family members of the whereabouts of suspects arrested or placed under residential surveillance within 24 hours.
“This is a new breakthrough in the amendment and is an added safeguard for human rights. The draft should now have no problem in passing — there is an over 90 percent chance it will pass,” he told AFP.
But he cautioned that in the case of criminal detentions — legally different to arrests — police have been given a longer period of 37 days to inform families, if such a notification impedes their investigation.
Though there are political and philosophical arguments in favor of extra-judicial measures to deal with terrorists associated in plots that involve the lives of thousands, “terrorism” and “national security threats” often carry a different meaning than in China than in liberal western democracies. The loaded terms often encompass political dissidents like Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabo and rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (who was whisked away and held for 20 months in 2010), in addition to terrorists accused of being engaged in large-scale acts of violence.
The fact that the new amendment has not yet been drafted could be attributed to the murkiness of these issues which surround it – as even the “bastion of democracy” that is the United States continues to juggle the often conflicting notions of national security and civil liberties.