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China's new criminal law not 'new' enough

A revised criminal law was submitted to China’s Parliament today that critics said continued to give unfettered powers to the police to detain those suspected of endangering national security.

world Updated: Mar 08, 2012 18:50 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

A revised criminal law was submitted to China’s Parliament on Thursday that critics said continued to give unfettered powers to the police to detain those suspected of endangering national security.

The amended Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) was presented to the ongoing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and was touted by official websites as “China highlights human rights.”

But on the issue of detaining people suspected of terrorism and bribery, detention without notifying family members was allowed.

“…the draft amendment provides that for a suspect involved in the crime of endangering national security, terrorism or especially serious bribery, house surveillance may be carried out at a designated place, upon approval by the procuratorate or public security organ at the next higher level, if house surveillance in his own residence may obstruct investigation. However, the venue cannot be a detention house or a place used especially for handling criminal cases,” the draft, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency, said.

Under the header, `notifying family’, the draft said for a person detained for involvement in crimes of endangering national security and terrorism, the police may not inform his family for fear of hindering investigation.

According to Xinhua: “The current law, while providing that after a person is detained or arrested, his family should be notified within 24 hours, also gives two exceptions -- one is under the circumstance where the notification may obstruct investigation, and the other is his family can not be reached. Now with the proposed revision, for a person under arrest, it deletes the first exception since "obstruct investigation" is ambiguous.”

The draft amendment defines the measure of house surveillance and stipulates the conditions for its application. “For example, a seriously ill person, a pregnant woman or a breastfeeding mother, involved in criminal cases, can be put under house surveillance.”

It does, for the first time, make clear that “confessions extorted through illegal means, such as torture, and testimony of witnesses and depositions of victims obtained illegally, such as by violence or threats, should be excluded during the trials.”

“To institutionally prevent extortion of confession by torture, the draft has regulated that suspects shall be sent to a detention facility for custody after being detained or arrested and be interrogated there. The process of interrogation shall be audio or video-taped,” it added.

“The real issue is not what the laws say, but how they are enforced," Reuters quoted Pu Zhiqiang, a Beijing lawyer who takes on contentious cases involving dissidents and media freedom as having said.

"The pattern is that the Communist Party can play by rules when there aren't special circumstances, but whenever there are special circumstances, it doesn't have to play by them," he said, referring to periods of political tension.

The current CPL was enacted in 1979 and amended in 1996.

The draft bill has been submitted to the Parliament, the National People's Congress, for discussion.