Daily Archives: March 9, 2012

China parliament unveils dissident detention powers


Wang Zhaoguo, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), explains the draft amendment to the Criminal Procedural Law during the second plenary meeting of the NPC at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing March 8, 2012. China’s parliament unveiled legislation on Thursday to solidify police powers to secretly hold dissidents and other suspects of state security crimes, a year after a spasm of clandestine detentions drew international condemnation. [Photo/Xinhua]

Reuters | Mar 8, 2012

By Chris Buckley

BEIJING | China’s parliament unveiled legislation on Thursday solidifying police powers to hold dissidents in secret, prompting an outcry from artist Ai Weiwei and other rights campaigners caught in a surge of clandestine detentions last year.

The ruling Communist Party, however, retreated from the most draconian part of rules for one kind of detention, “residential surveillance”, which were proposed last year.

Police powers to hold suspects facing subversion and other state security accusations are set out in revisions to the Criminal Procedure Law presented to parliament, the National People’s Congress, now in annual full session.

“Detainees’ families should be notified within 24 hours, except when impossible, or when they are involved in crimes concerning state security or terrorism, and notification could obstruct investigations,” the government said in a provision on detention in legal amendments issued to delegates and reporters.

The detention provisions drew criticism of Communist Party controls to stifle dissent ahead of a leadership succession late this year. The party-run parliament more or less automatically approves legislation proposed by the government.

“I think this shows the present political mentality of lack of confidence and of fear,” Ai Weiwei, an internationally renowned artist who was secretively detained in April last year, said when asked about the amendments on detention.

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China unveils laws to hold dissidents in secret

“This is a massive threat to the judicial system and to citizens’ security,” said Ai, who became the most prominent face of hundreds held in the crackdown on dissent. He was released and fined for tax charges he has challenged as unfounded.

In China, “state security crimes” include subversion and other vaguely defined political charges used to punish dissidents who challenge the Communist Party.

Police and prosecutors already wield broad powers to detain people, and party-run courts rarely challenge how the powers are used. Critics have said the secret detention amendments give a veneer of authority to arbitrary powers, risking more abuses.

Fearing that anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world could inspire challenges to Communist rule, Beijing last year held dozens of activists for weeks or months in secretive detention, and some later spoke of harsh, even traumatic abuses.

“The authorities want legislation only for the sake of preserving stability, that is, restricting citizen’s rights,” said Jiang Tianyong, a Beijing human rights lawyer held in secret last year. He also criticized the secret detention powers enshrined in the new legislation.

But the government backed down from expanding another kind of detention, “residential surveillance”, which has been used to keep dissidents in hotels, state guesthouses and other sites away from families, lawyers and the public eye.

The revised law says that when suspects or defendants are “involved in crimes concerning state security, terrorism or especially serious corruption and notification of where they are residing could obstruct investigations”, they can he held in residential surveillance outside their own homes or state-run detention centers. But families must be told within 24 hours.

WARY EYE ON ARAB WORLD

A draft of the revised law issued last year drew an even sharper outcry from lawyers and advocates for allowing residential surveillance for dissidents and terror suspects without having to tell their families even that they were held.

The uproar apparently forced the government to scale back the scope for such residential detention, although police still hold sweeping powers, said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group.

“I think that they’ve been defeated and that the legal reformers’ views have prevailed, and they’ve rolled back this attempt by the police to considerably expand their power,” said Bequelin, who has closely followed the debate about the law.

A Chinese parliament official who helps manage legislation, Lang Sheng, told reporters the final changes to the detention rules showed the parliament “takes seriously ensuring the rights of citizens” and denied China allowed “secret detention”.

China introduced residential surveillance so that ill, pregnant and otherwise vulnerable people could avoid outright detention, but it has mutated into a tool for police to hold citizens outside the orbit of courts and lawyers, said Joshua Rosenzweig, an independent human rights researcher in Hong Kong.

The amendments give that mutation a legal footing, he said.

“It allows police to put someone in that custody without having to justify it to anyone,” Rosenzweig said by telephone.

Other parts of the criminal procedure changes have been welcomed by lawyers, who have said they could improve their access to suspects and defendants, and discourage seeking evidence obtained through torture and other illegal means.

“The real issue is not what the laws say, but how they are enforced,” said Pu Zhiqiang, a Beijing lawyer who takes on contentious cases involving dissidents and media freedom.

“The pattern is that the Communist Party can play by rules when there aren’t special circumstances, but whenever there are special circumstances, it doesn’t have to play by them,” he said, referring to periods of political tension.

Mass killer Anders Breivik killed 77 people but ‘will not be sent to prison’


Breivik, right, is set to seek a sentence of involuntary commitment to psychiatric care instead of imprisonment

Associated Press | Mar 7, 2012

Mass killer Anders Breivik was indicted today on terror and murder charges for the deaths of 77 people in a bomb and shooting rampage, but prosecutors said the confessed killer is unlikely to go to prison.

They consider the 33-year-old right-wing extremist psychotic and will seek a sentence of involuntary commitment to psychiatric care instead of imprisonment, unless new information about his mental health emerges during the trial set to start in April.

As expected, they charged him under a paragraph in Norway’s anti-terror law that refers to violent acts intended to disrupt key government functions or spread fears in the population.

Breivik has confessed to the July 22 attacks but denies criminal guilt, portraying the victims as “traitors” for embracing immigration policies he claims will result in an Islamic colonisation of Norway.

The indictment listed the names of the eight people killed when a bomb exploded in Oslo and the 69 victims of a shooting spree on Utoya island outside the capital, where the youth wing of the governing Labor Party was holding its annual summer camp.

Reading from the indictment, prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh said 34 of the victims at Utoya were between 14 and 17 years old, 22 were aged 18-20, six were between 21 and 25 and seven were older than 25.

She said 67 died of gunshot wounds, and two died of fall injuries or drowning.

The indictment also listed the names of 33 people wounded in the shooting and nine people who were seriously injured by the explosion in Oslo’s government district.

Police spokesman Tore Jo Nielsen said outside Oslo’s Ila prison that Breivik had been ‘totally calm’ when he was read the charges.

The terror charges carry a maximum penalty of 21 years in prison but prosecutors are working under the assumption that Breivik is legally insane and therefore unfit for prison. However, they said that this assessment could change during the trial.

‘We’re keeping the possibility open that there could be things during the presentation of evidence that may change our view,’ Bejer Engh said.

A second, court-ordered psychiatric evaluation of Breivik is ongoing after an initial review – which concluded he was a paranoid schizophrenic – met widespread criticism.

Some experts questioned whether someone suffering from a grave mental illness would be capable of carrying out attacks requiring such meticulous preparation.

Breivik himself has rejected the diagnosis and his defence lawyer Geir Lippestad said his client was “disappointed” that it was included in the indictment.

Breivik also rejects the authority of the Norwegian legal system, calling it a tool of the left-leaning elites he claims have betrayed the country.

Investigators have not found any indications to support Breivik’s claims that he belongs to a secret anti-Muslim resistance movement plotting to overthrow European governments and replace them with ‘patriotic’ regimes.

Tove Selbekk, a member of a support group for those affected by the massacre, welcomed the indictment but said many survivors and families of victims are dreading the start of the trial, set for April 16.

‘We’re very clear on the fact that it will be tough … to hear him explain himself and to hear about all those who passed away and how they passed away,’ said Ms Selbekk, whose daughter survived the Utoya massacre. ‘But this is something we need to go through.’