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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

China Seeks to Legalise 'Disappearances'

China is making plans to legalise state-backed "disappearances" of the kind endured by the maverick artist Ai Weiwei earlier this year, in a move which lawyers and human rights advocates have described as "terrifying".

Ai WeiWei, the artist and Chinese dissident. Photo: REUTERS
By Peter Foster

Amendments to China's house arrest laws would allow prisoners to be detained in secret locations and without their families being informed, according to proposals published this week on the website of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress.

Under current Chinese law suspects can be placed under six months house arrest, but they must usually be held in their own homes, unless they have no fixed address.

But under the new rules Chinese police will be allowed to hold suspects incognito if they suspected them of involvement in terrorism, endangering state security, or if keeping them in their own homes would "interfere with investigations".

In practice, warn Chinese lawyers and international rights groups, the provisions will give the police a legal fig-leaf for the disappearance of enemies of the ruling Communist Party which includes anyone considered subversive or a threat to state security.

"This is in complete contravention of international standards," said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher on China for Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group based in New York, "One of the key principles of international human rights law is deprivation of freedom can only take place if it has been decided by the court." Zhang Peihong, a well-known Chinese criminal defense lawyer who defended Australian national Stern Hu in last year's Rio Tinto industrial espionage and fraud case, described the developments as "terrifying".

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