China Power

Rights Lawyer Speaks Out

A Chinese rights lawyer speaks out after being detained in secret earlier this year by Chinese authorities.

China is coming under increasing pressure from lawyers inside and outside the country to abandon plans that would allow the detention of suspects in secret locations.

The proposed change to the law, revealed last month, would mean that police aren’t obliged to advise family members where a suspect is being detainedover national security, terrorism or major corruption allegations ‘if it could hinder their inquiries.’ But such a broad drawing of the law would, in many eyes, be open to considerable abuse, especially against the backdrop of what is China’s biggest crackdown on activists in years.

Such worries will have been compounded with the revelations by a rights lawyer, who has just spoken about his time in detention.

The South China Morning Post reports that Jiang Tianyong suffered a ‘combination of physical and mental abuse, relentless brainwashing and threats’ that initially kept him from talking about his two months in detention. He was reportedly held on February 19 and severely beaten for two nights.

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‘He was then made to sit motionless for up to 15 hours a day in a room where the curtains were always closed and interrogated repeatedly by national security officers. He said he could never say “I don't know” or make “mistakes,” or threats and humiliation would follow,’ the paper notes. ‘He said his interrogators told him: "Here we can do things in accordance to law. We can also not do things in accordance to law, because we are allowed to not do things in accordance to law.’

Speaking to VOA News, Patrick Poon of the Hong Kong Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group said the proposed changes to the law are a further indication that human rights in China are deteriorating.

‘These new amendments can actually detain any person in an unspecified place any time if the police wish,’ he said. ‘That would increase the occurrences of enforced disappearances in China, so we are very concerned about all these new provisions.’

But according to Kelley Currie, a China specialist at the Project 2049 Institute, the changes are less about introducing changes to procedures than making legal processes that have been going on for some time, despite international pressure.

‘They already do this, even though the law doesn’t really allow it. So this would just have the effect of bringing this essentially lawless behaviour, that is contrary to basic universal human rights standards, under Chinese law and creating a legal framework for repression,’ she told me when the plans came to light. ‘This is the way they are increasingly operating: codifying and “legalizing” something that goes against international norms and basic human rights, but which is perfectly consistent with an authoritarian political system they have been operating under. Then they can use these repressive means against people, all the while saying that it is being done “according to law.”’