“China’s Latest Legal Crackdown”

Jerome Cohen is back in the WSJ, describing the new Chinese legal code updates:

Before the end of this month, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress will review the second draft of a proposal for comprehensive revisions to China’s Criminal Procedure Law. Despite some tweaks made under public pressure, it’s clear the revisions will be one step forward and two steps back for justice, at least for the politically controversial.

For non-political citizens, the draft revision promises overdue protections against arbitrary exercise of state power. But for politically unpopular minorities and dissidents, the revision threatens the legalization of repressive and abusive state tactics. The overall effect is a murky, two-tiered legal regime that will move the country further away from some major international human rights standards.

Despite its positive aspects, the draft revision also embraces a more sinister agenda toward political outsiders. It will authorize, under Article 73, the practice of enforced disappearances of political offenders. While the practice has been employed for years, it was always technically illegal—until now. Under the draft, citizens can be secretly detained for up to six months on suspicion of “endangering national security” or “terrorism”—notoriously vague charges that have long been manipulated by police, prosecutors and courts. Article 73 is a blatant, open-ended attempt to authorize expanded political repression in the guise of concern for national security.

By law, “residential surveillance,” a strict form of house arrest allowed for up to six months, is supposed to be less severe than confinement in a police detention center. Yet it has often been abused as a vehicle for detaining political offenders not in their own homes but in secret, incommunicado venues controlled by police, as in the cases of Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo and renowned artist Ai Weiwei. The proposed law effectively institutionalizes this rights violation.

In today’s climate, petitioners seeking relief from political or even mundane grievances may easily be charged with endangering national security, and peaceful Tibetan and Uighur protesters are often accused of terrorism. Under Article 73, they will have fewer legal rights than they do now. They will be virtually defenseless during the critical first stage of the criminal process.

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