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Proposed law would legalise detention without charges

 BEIJING (AsiaNews): Police would be able to hold and detain suspects for months over matters involving national security, terrorism or corruption, if proposals currently before the National People’s Congress are adopted and come into effect.
The proposed changes would also affect the current legal situation of what is termed residential surveillance, a form of house arrest in which every movement of the suspect is monitored.
However, major Chinese media are highly critical of the proposed amendments, because they would deprive ordinary Chinese citizens of the right to call a lawyer or notify their relatives that they have been detained under surveillance.
Under the new changes, police would be allowed to hold suspects for up to six months and prevent them from having contact with other people if, in the opinion of the police, that would hinder their inquiries.
The only monitor suggested on the programme is the necessity of obtaining permission from a prosecutor or the public security agency in order to get clearance for the detention.
Earlier this year, China came under international criticism because many human rights advocates and political dissidents had disappeared, been seized by police without any formal charges or without informing anyone, then held in secret locations for months.
Prominent artist, Ai Weiwei, was one of the most high-profile of them. He was released in June after being detained in an unknown location for three months. Eventually, he was charged with tax evasion, a crime which does not come under the national security act.
Others, like the lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, have been missing without a trace for years without the authorities informing the public or even relatives, except for messages that he is doing well.
Chinese law authorises house arrest for up to six months, but the suspect is supposed to be formally charged. Under the proposed amendment, a suspect can be taken to an undisclosed location other than a prison or a police station, without being formally charged.
Human Rights Watch senior Asia researcher, Nicholas Bequelin, says that the proposed changes to the law would basically allow police to carry out enforced disappearances legally, keeping people for up to six months without any need to notify anyone.
“If you are taking somebody elsewhere than a lawfully supervised place of detention without notice, it greatly increases the risk of torture,” he added.
Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, warned its 200 million members that anyone who spreads rumours would have their accounts suspended for one month.  Two bloggers, who complained about corruption, have seen their accounts suspended.
Many expressed outrage, complaining about the new policy. Others are concerned that the measure will increase censorship and stop the flow of information the government may find offensive.
One member wrote, “How does Weibo know what’s true or not?” noting that the speed with which information spreads online is already a cause of concern for the authorities.
The People’s Daily newspaper appeared to suggest that further restrictions were in the pipeline. In a full-page article, it speaks about a political mission to control microblogs and other new forms of media.
Beijing has consistently banned media coverage of disasters, except by official media. The July 23 high-speed train crash in Wenzhou, which hit microblogging sites immediately after it happened, is a good example.
Increasingly, people are posting stories about injustice, hoping that online noise will force the authorities to conduct investigations. However, the opposite has been the experience, with authorities tending to tighten up their control instead. Both Twitter and Facebook have been blocked since 2009.
On July 19 this year, the operator of Tencent received a visit from Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Politburo, which oversees public security. In a speech to employees of the microblog company, he called for greater self-discipline to ensure that the Internet promotes social harmony.

 

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