By Benjamin Cost
The worst has come to pass. China has legalized secret detentions despite the seemingly-promising proposal of an amendment to outlaw them, and vehement protest from netizens. The new legislature, entitled “Article 73,” will allow authorities to kidnap any parties suspected of “national security threats” and “terrorism” and detain them for up to six months at undisclosed locations, without any obligation to inform family members of their whereabouts.
According to Radio Free Asia, the National People’s Congress (NPC) passed the amended version of the Criminal Procedure Law with the backing of 92 percent of the 2,872 delegates present at the closing session.
This ruling marks a tragic conclusion to a saga that at one point appeared promising for all in favor of banning secret detentions. Just last week, an amendment requiring police to notify family members of the location of the suspect’s detainment within a day was claimed to have a 90% chance of passing.
However, that same proposal also presented ambiguity and warning signs that outlawing “forced disappearance” might not become a reality. One of the clauses stated that police would have up to 37, rather than 24 hours, to inform family members of the detainee’s whereabouts if notifying them would hinder the investigation, while the NPC also refused to provide details of the amendment’s draft date.
Despite a groundswell of recent media attention which included Al-Jazeera’s coverage of a secret “black jail” , this most recent ruling presents the last nail in the coffin for those advocating a banning of secret detention policies. Naturally, netizens are not going down without a barrage of scathing criticism, much of which analogizes the legislation to that of past omnipotent dictators.
One the more heated responses (provided by Tea Leaf Nation) reads:
‘I heard during the WWII a New York Times correspondent in Berlin said this about the Third Reich, ‘If Hilter was truly popular, Goebbels [the Nazi’s propaganda master] would be out of a job; if Goebbels was truly successful, Himmler [the head of the SS] would be out of a job.’ History tells us that propaganda’s success relies on violence as a back-up. So, when repeating lies for a thousand times is no longer effective, you have Article 73 of the Criminal Procedure Law.’
Some argue that “Article 73” is justified as it only applies to suspects linked to clear and present dangers to national security:
The liberals are taking it out of context. In the past, secret detention was allowed in all cases, now the law is being amended so it can only be used in cases that endanger national security or in cases of terrorism, so actually [the amendment] limits the jurisdiction of secret detention.
Meanwhile, there is the fear that terms like “terrorist” and “national security threat” will extend to rights activists and political dissidents like Jiang Tianyong, a lawyer from Beijing who was detained at an unofficial residential location for 60 days. During this period, Jiang endured sleep deprivation and humiliation; forms of torture much of the public believes are given legal justification by “Article 73.”
Some netizens are already worrying that terms like “terrorist,” “national security threat” might begin to apply to them:
‘I just retweeted something. My husband warned me, ‘Stop retweeting this and that, what if one day I won’t be able to find you! Who will take care of our baby at home?’
Only time will tell how the ruling plays out in its implementation, but for now, it appears as if more “black jail” incidents and rights’ activist detentions are on the horizon.