Skip to main content

China passes new law allowing secret detentions

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 14, 2012 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
The National People's Congress has approved changes to the country's criminal code, allowing police to hold suspects at secret locations.
The National People's Congress has approved changes to the country's criminal code, allowing police to hold suspects at secret locations.
  • The Chinese legislature approves first overhaul of criminal code in 15 years
  • The changes allow the police to hold suspects at secret locations
  • They have been criticized by human rights advocates
  • But China says new rights for defendants are a step forward

Beijing (CNN) -- Chinese legislators Wednesday approved changes to the country's criminal code that will allow the police to hold certain suspects at secret locations.

The nation's state media applauded the overhaul of the criminal procedure law -- the first in more than 15 years -- as a step forward for human rights.

But critics say it leaves plenty of scope for abuses by providing more clout to China's already powerful state security apparatus.

The Chinese police have long been criticized by human rights advocates for detaining people secretly, and illegally, in so-called "black jails," often located in suburban hotels or other nondescript housing facilities.

China wraps National People's Congress

Under the changes to the Criminal Procedure Law passed Wednesday by the National People's Congress, the police will have the authority to hold suspects for up to six months at undisclosed locations if they believe them to be involved in endangering national security, terrorism or particularly serious bribery.

"This is the formalization of detaining people wherever they please," said Nicholas Bequelin, senior researcher in Hong Kong for the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch. He noted that "endangering national security" has been interpreted in a very broad manner to include acts like criticizing the Chinese government.

An amendment to the bill last week requires the police to notify the family of a suspect being detained in this manner, but they do not have to tell the family where or for how long the suspect is being held.

The revised law, which the Chinese state news agency Xinhua said "highlighted human rights protection," provides some new rights to defendants, including access to a lawyer and the elimination of evidence gathered through torture.

"The highlight of this revision is to better embody the constitutional principle of respecting and protecting human rights," said Wang Liming, a deputy at the legislature, according to Xinhua.

But human rights advocates have expressed doubt about how thoroughly the new measures will be respected.

"The test will really be in the implementation," Bequelin said. "The police are already violating and willfully ignoring many of the defendant's rights under the law."

Chinese Internet users also raised concerns about the law on micro-blogging sites after it was passed with 2,639 NPC delegates voting in favor and only 160 voting against.

"This is such retrogression," said a microblogger using the name Luoguogg. "Can't believe I'm seeing a dark moment in history with my own eyes."

The changes to the criminal code had been years in the making, Xinhua reported, noting that opinions and suggestions had been made by different lawmakers and law enforcement departments.

The strong influence of the police, who have a dominant role in the criminal justice system in China, is holding back the prospect of meaningful reform, according to Bequelin.

"What you need to improve the justice system in China is to take power away from the police," he said.

CNN's Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
Chinese students show a handmade red ribbon one day ahead of the the World AIDS Day, at a school in Hanshan, east China's Anhui province on November 30, 2009.
Over 200 Chinese villagers in Sichuan province have signed a petition to banish a HIV-positive eight-year-old boy, state media reported.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane, forcing the Nanjing-bound plane to turn back to Bangkok.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 0503 GMT (1303 HKT)
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 0021 GMT (0821 HKT)
Like Beijing today, Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons.
December 6, 2014 -- Updated 0542 GMT (1342 HKT)
At the height of his power, Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0826 GMT (1626 HKT)
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 0648 GMT (1448 HKT)
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
December 3, 2014 -- Updated 0855 GMT (1655 HKT)
Despite an anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past 12 months.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
A 24-hour Taipei bookstore is a hangout for hipsters as well as bookworms.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0153 GMT (0953 HKT)
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
North Korean refugees face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.