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Legalising enforced disappearances

SARAJEVO (SE): China has amended the Lawyers Law, the Criminal Law and the National Security Law to extend government scope for official intervention in cases involving the activities of lawyers involved in pursuing cases involving human rights violations, Legjla Hodzic, from the International Commission on Missing Persons in Sarajevo, Bosnia, says in a report titled, Enforced Disappearances in China, released on February 12.

She says that when China arrested or detained over 280 lawyers and human rights advocates in July last year, they were not only prevented from practicing law, but from pursuing cases involving violations of human rights, as well as being held in conditions tantamount to enforced disappearance.

In January this year, the government moved to regularise the detention of seven of the lawyers, by bringing formal charges against them.

The commission says that many of the lawyers have been placed under designated residential surveillance, which it describes as a secret detention formalised by the Criminal Procedure Law.

Hodzic says, “This authorises incommunicado—often solitary—confinement for up to six months. While prisoners are held under these conditions, families and legal counsel have no information about their whereabouts. Since the authorities have legitimised secret detention, the risk of abuse during incarceration is likely to have increased.”

She then cites the case of prominent human rights lawyer, Wang Yu, who was held incommunicado for six months together with her husband and child before being formally charged in January.

“This has come to symbolise the plight of hundreds of lawyers,” Hodzic points out, saying that in the same vein, no information about the whereabouts of other detained human rights lawyers, including Li Heping, Li Chunfu and Wang Quanzhang, is currently available.

International jurists have been calling on the Chinese authorities to abide by the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory, but is it has not signed the Convention against Enforced Disappearances.

This places detained human rights defenders in a particularly difficult position.

The International Commission on Missing Persons endeavours to secure the cooperation of governments and other authorities in locating and identifying missing persons, especially as a result of armed conflict, human rights abuse, natural disasters and other causes.

Its website adds, “It also supports the work of other organisations in their efforts, encourages public involvement in its activities and contributes to the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration and tribute to the missing.”

Hodzic quotes Human Rights Watch as saying the current president of China, Xi Jinping, is placing stronger clamps on the freedom of civil society in general, with increased control over the Internet, broadcast and print media, as well as academia.

She says that the silencing actions taken against the lawyers, as well as the book sellers who mysteriously evaporated in Hong Kong only to liquefy on the mainland, reflects the determination of the Communist Party to stop any interference in its rule.

 

“As methods of silencing opposition voices are legitimised through legislative amendments, the danger of suppression of fundamental rights increases. Disappearances serve as a warning to others, while legislative restraints on the practice of law make it difficult for groups and individuals to pursue legal avenues of opposition to government policies,” Hodzic says in concluding her report.

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