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China: Abolish Secret Detention But Ensure Rights Protections

Replacing Abusive “Shuanggui” System with Another Unlikely to End Violations

President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, China, October 18, 2017.  © 2017 Aly Song/Reuters

(New York, October 18, 2017) – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge to abolish the abusive shuanggui internal party disciplinary system will only be meaningful if its replacement ensures rights protections for detainees, Human Rights Watch said today. In his opening remarks to the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing on October 18, 2017, President Xi said shuanggui will be replaced by liuzhi, a new detention system, as part of broader reforms to the legal system.

“If President Xi’s proposal means that detainees are not ill-treated, get to choose their lawyers, and otherwise have their rights respected, then this will indeed be a significant step forward,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “But if he is just proposing to replace one abusive detention system with another, it will be another setback for legal reform in China.”

Shuanggui is a detention system run by the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) that can be imposed on any of its 88 million Party members.

In December 2016, Human Rights Watch published a report on shuanggui, detailing the use of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance, and calling for its abolition. Around the same time, CCDI head Wang Qishan pledged to curb shuanggui abuses with steps such as videotaping interrogations, but it is not clear whether those protections have been implemented.

The liuzhi system mentioned by Xi is a new detention power of the soon to be created “super” anti-graft agency, the National Supervision Commission, which is slated to start work in March 2018. The agency will also consolidate graft-fighting powers currently vested in various government departments. It is also empowered to investigate anyone exercising public authority – including officials, managers in state-owned companies, and public school managers. The agency will share space and personnel with the CCDI.

Official articles suggest liuzhi will offer improvements: the system will be codified in law and subjected to stricter internal procedures; detainees will be given adequate food and rest; detentions will have time limits – three months, and, upon approval, another three months.

However, similar measures by the CCDI since the 1990s have not deterred abuses in the shuanggui system, Human Rights Watch said. There is no indication that those held under liuzhi will enjoy access to lawyers or redress mechanisms – two problems Human Rights Watch identified as facilitating serious rights violations in shuanggui. The draft State Supervision Law establishing the National Supervision Commission has not been made public; what little is known has raised concerns among Chinese human rights lawyers.

At the beginning of his presidency, President Xi promised to “put power in a cage” and to rule China according to law. While his government previously abolished the abusive “re-education through labor” system, this positive development was undermined and overshadowed by his using the legal system as a weapon against perceived threats to Communist Party rule, notably defense lawyers, petitioners, dissidents, rights activists, and anyone critical of the government. Under his leadership, the government has promulgated many laws that, in the name of protecting “national security,” further restrict freedoms of expression and association while expanding surveillance.

“China’s top legislature should ensure that basic rights protections for detainees are included in the new legislation regulating liuzhi,” Richardson said. “Otherwise liuzhi may simply be the legal, but no less abusive, twin of shuanggui – and no more likely to succeed in deterring corruption.”

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