China unveils new legislation on police detention power

Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei released, 23 June 2011
Image caption Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei was detained for 81 days last year

China's parliament has unveiled new legislation that sets out police powers to detain dissidents.

According to the draft law, suspects accused of subversion and other security charges can still be detained without their families being informed.

The revision to China's Criminal Procedure Law was presented for approval on the fourth day of the National People's Congress in Beijing.

This law follows a spate of detentions of high-profile dissidents last year.

Some involved people being held in secret locations without their families being informed of their whereabouts.

These included artist Ai Weiwei, who was held for 81 days after he was taken away by the authorities in April 2011 as he was about to board a Hong Kong-bound flight.

In another case, dissident lawyer Gao Zhisheng was missing for 20 months before his brother was informed by authorities late last year that he was in a Xinjiang jail.

Human rights groups say this new draft law adds a veneer of authority to arbitrary detentions, says the BBC's correspondent in Beijing, Martin Patience.

'Residential surveillance'

In the set of amendments to the law distributed to delegates and media, a provision is included to inform detainees' families within 24 hours ''except when impossible'', said a Reuters report, or ''in crimes concerning state security or terrorism'' when notification may ''obstruct investigations''.

The revised law also said that in such cases involving ''state security, terrorism or especially serious corruption'', the detainees can be held in "residential surveillance" outside their homes or detention centres.

However in "residential surveillance" cases, a detainee's family must be informed within 24 hours unless they cannot be reached, said an Associated Press report.

Human rights activists said many detainees who have been put under ''residential surveillance'' in the past - often in hotels or apartments in the suburbs - have reported torture and abuse by police.

An earlier draft of the law proposed in August 2011 sparked widespread criticism for allowing such detentions without families being informed.

The draft amendment also for the first time states explicitly that ''confessions extorted through illegal means such as torture'' should not be used in trials, the official state media Xinhua reported.

The current Criminal Procedure Law was enacted in 1979 and amended in 1996.

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