China "black jails" prompt fears of wider security crackdown

Thu Nov 10, 2011 4:36am EST
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's campaign to stifle dissenters like artist Ai Weiwei through secret detentions could come cloaked in a thicker veneer of legality if proposed crime law changes go through, a prominent rights advocacy group said on Thursday.

China has clamped down hard on dozens of prominent critics and dissidents including human rights lawyers, bloggers and civil activists by locking them up incommunicado for weeks and even months at a time in undisclosed locations.

China's moves to amend criminal laws next year to effectively legitimize extra-judicial detentions of people for up to six months could see a hardening of the nation's security crackdown in the run-up to a change in leadership, Human Rights Watch said.

"The government move to legalize practices which it has otherwise indicated it should eradicate we find highly, highly problematic," Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, told reporters.

"We believe this is indicative of a much larger scope that's being given to the domestic security authorities that will in the future be extremely difficult to rein in."

China's Foreign Ministry said "the competent authorities of China have been soliciting the public's views" on the proposed amendment.

"We are willing to listen to their views but some organizations have been viewing China with colored lenses," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. "For such organizations, we will not comment on their behavior."

Despite international criticism, China has continued to run so-called "black jails" -- unlawful secret detention facilities used to hold critics and petitioners, where detainees are often subjected to beatings, sleep and food deprivation, as well as psychological abuse.   Continued...