Chinese police may have power to disappear people

By Alexa Olesen

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 1 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

The controversial exception is the expansion of police powers in Article 73 on "residential surveillance," a kind of house arrest without charge. The August draft said police could hold suspects under residential surveillance — at a fixed location outside their home — for up to six months without notifying families in cases involving state security or terrorism or if notification would impede the investigation.

In practice, police have disappeared regime critics, from Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and his wife to prominent avant-garde artist Ai Weiwei, who disappeared into police custody for nearly three months last year.

Ai's wife Lu Qing, who was distraught over the official silence during her husband's disappearance, has written an open letter to the government saying that codifying the more muscular powers for police would mark a "legal setback for China and deterioration of human rights."

The outcry may have had some effect. One prominent Beijing legal scholar, Chen Guangzhong, said this week that Article 73 has been changed from its August version and now requires that families be notified within 24 hours if a relative is put under residential surveillance in all cases except when the family cannot be reached.

Chen said he has not seen the latest version himself but was informed of the change by a colleague who he declined to identify. Chen was among the more vocal critics of the August draft when it came out.

"Personally speaking, I am relatively satisfied," said the 82-year-old tenured professor at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.

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