China's new criminal justice laws

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Hu Jintao
Hu Jintao has been Chinese President since 2003. Photo: Reuters

This week, China's National People's Congress, a Parliament with Chinese characteristics, has been rubber stamping new criminal justice laws.

It had been thought the new legislation would 'legalise' secret detention. However, at the last minute the proposal was pulled. Or was it?

The new laws still permit the police to detain a suspect without telling anyone, including their families, if "the case is related to state security or terrorism".

As even writing about democracy in a positive manner can lead to charges of 'subverting the state'; the definition for state security or terrorism cases is broad.

China says the new laws respect and safeguard human rights. In fact China's constitution does spell out protection for human rights. As the Foreign Ministry spokesman often reminds foreign reporters at the regular press briefings.

Where does that leave the case of Ai Wei Wei, who was detained for 80 days without charge on April 3rd last year. His crime was 'tax evasion' according to the authorities and yet his family were not told where he was being held. He says he was kept in six different secret detention centres and hooded when he was moved. His case was not officially classed as state security or terrorism.

While discussing these new measures the government has admitted that suspects are tortured to force confessions. Last Sunday the NC spokesman Li Zhao Xing said that the new laws would stop suspects being "forced to prove their are guilty", a telling form of words.

The draft amendment states that confessions made under torture should be excluded from the trial. Of course in reality the laws surrounding arrest and interrogation are often ignored, as the Ai Wei Wei case shows.

The US and UK governments continue to press for the Rule of Law to be respected in China.