BEIJING – China is considering changes to its criminal law that human rights activists said Saturday would effectively legalise the forced disappearance of dissidents.
Proposed amendments to “residential surveillance” laws would allow police to hold suspects in secret locations in cases involving national security, terrorism or major corruption, the official Legal Daily said this week.
Residential surveillance is a form of house arrest.
Police would need permission from a prosecutor or public security agency to detain people in a “specified location” in such cases when they believe holding them at home could “obstruct the investigation”, the report said.
The proposed changes — part of a broader review of China’s criminal procedure law — would not require police to contact family members of suspects involved in these types of cases if it could hinder their inquiries.
“If this proposal does come into law it would essentially legitimise the enforced disappearances that we have been seeing more and more of over the past year or so,” Joshua Rosenzweig, a Hong Kong-based manager of rights group Dui Hua, told the Agence France-Presse.
Dozens of lawyers and activists, including prominent artist Ai Weiwei, have been disappeared or detained by police in recent months in China’s toughest crack down on dissent in years.
Nervous leaders launched the campaign against government critics after online appeals emerged in February calling for weekly protests like those that have swept the Arab world.
Human Rights Watch Senior Asia Researcher Nicholas Bequelin said the proposed changes would be a “worrisome expansion of the power of the police” and, if approved, would violate international laws.
It would allow police “to basically carry out legally enforced disappearances… keeping people up to six months without any need to notify anyone,” Bequelin said.
But Rosenzweig said it could take many months before the proposed changes were enshrined in law and “a lot could change between now and the time this goes into force”.