Controversial changes to China’s criminal law
Chinese lawmakers on Wednesday passed into law controversial changes that give the police powers to detain some suspects for up to six months in secret locations known as “black jails”.
Thursday 15 March 2012, 03:29PM
Detentions in unofficial locations such as hotels or guesthouses in China are well-documented. Last year many people – including renowned artist Ai Weiwei – were illegally held in locations away from formal detention areas, sometimes for months.
But critics say the amendments to China’s Criminal Procedure Law would legalise the practice for people considered a threat to the Communist Party such as political dissidents, dozens of whom were detained last year.
The bill was passed at the final session of the National People’s Congress, with 2,639 delegates voting in favour of the amendments. Only 160 lawmakers opposed the bill, and 57 abstained from the vote.
The proposed amendments caused a storm of protest from rights groups and judicial reformers when details first emerged in 2011. A new clause in the latest draft would oblige police to inform relatives of those held outside formal detention centres within 24 hours of their detention, although it is not clear whether the location would be disclosed.
China uses three methods of locking up suspects - formal arrest, formal detention and “residential surveillance”, which can be at home or in other locations, usually hotels or guesthouses.
In the first two cases, suspects are held in formal areas of detention such as prisons.
The controversy focuses mainly on the latter, where there is little accountability and where critics say police may feel freer to use torture.
The amended law for the first time includes a clause to allow police to hold some people under “residential surveillance” away from home for up to six months.