【 The Wall Street Journal 】   Post Date: 3/9/2012
Beijing Appears to Grant Greater Rights to Detainees
Author: Jeremy Page
Thursday human rights activists seemed to achieve a small victory as China’s parliament moved to protect detainees by prohibiting police from “disappearing” people without their families knowing their whereabouts.  However, prominent activist Ai Weiwei, himself detained last year for 81 days, pointed out that Chinese police rarely stick to the letter of the law in such detentions.  
BEIJING—China's parliament unveiled legislation that restricts police powers to detain people at undisclosed locations without informing their families—a move hailed as a small victory for legal reformers who led a public outcry last year against legalizing the practice.
 
But activists including artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained for 81 days last year without being charged, say Chinese police rarely observe legal procedure, and the new revisions include many loopholes that would still allow police to make people "disappear" in politically sensitive cases.
 
The revisions to the Criminal Procedure Law presented Thursday during an annual parliament session still allow police to hold suspects in certain serious crimes under "residential surveillance" outside their homes or state-run detention centers.
 
But even in those cases, the new revisions require police to inform suspects' relatives within 24 hours, according to draft legislation that the National People's Congress—a rubber-stamp parliament that essentially affirms the decisions of China's Communist Party leadership—is expected to approve during the ongoing session.
 
China's security forces have routinely detained dissidents, human-rights lawyers and other activists at undisclosed locations without informing their relatives, especially since online appeals appeared last year for a Chinese version of the uprisings in the Arab world.
 
The increasing use of such detentions without charges or court hearings last year raised concerns among Chinese lawyers and liberal academics that China was sacrificing three decades of efforts toward building a legal system for the sake of maintaining political stability.
 
In a case that sparked an international outcry, Mr. Ai, China's most famous contemporary artist and an outspoken critic of the government, was detained in such a way before being released and fined on tax-evasion charges that he disputes.
 
Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer who served more than four years in prison for campaigning against forced abortions, is still being confined at home in a form of detention that lawyers say is technically illegal but condoned by the government.
 
And Liu Xia, the wife of Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, is still under effective house arrest at her apartment in Beijing despite never having been formally arrested or charged, let alone convicted of any crime, according to her friends.
 
"Police behavior is violating the law every day," Mr. Ai said in an interview Thursday. "In my case I still don't know why I was detained, or why I was released. I can't sue anybody because the courts won't accept the case. You can't argue with their power because it is too unified. There is no structure or system to limit it."
 
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Key Words: human rights China, Ai Weiwei
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