August 28, 2011 in Nation/World

China moves closer to secret detentions

Barbara Demick Los Angeles Times
 
Dissident held for months

In a widely followed case earlier this year, China held dissident artist Ai Weiwei for 2 1/2 months without charge, most of the time without his family knowing his whereabouts. His case didn’t involve national security or terrorism, but tax evasion.

BEIJING – A proposed change in the Chinese criminal code that would allow authorities to detain suspects for up to six months in a secret location is a dangerous step backward for the country, activists charged Saturday.

The change would essentially enshrine what has become a common practice for silencing dissidents, many of whom have disappeared for months without formal charges being filed. Under the change, the suspects can be held without their family members or lawyers being notified.

The proposed change in the law was disclosed earlier in the week in the respected Legal Daily.

“This new amendment will legalize ‘forced disappearance,’ ” Beijing attorney Liu Xiaoyuan wrote on Twitter on Saturday. Liu was briefly detained himself around the same time as his friend and client Ai Weiwei, the dissident artist whose arrest this spring made international headlines.

Under current law, a person suspected of a crime but not formally charged could be put under house arrest for six months.

The amendment would allow the “residential detention” to be moved to an undisclosed location in “special cases involving national security, terrorism and major bribery, if detaining the suspect at his home will put an obstacle on solving the case,” the legal newspaper reported. The location would not be a “regular detention center or police station.”

“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.


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