On Wednesday, March 14, China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC) is expected to vote to adopt proposed revisions to the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) amid troubling questions about the substance of the legislation, procedural irregularities, censorship of online discussion.
On March 8, Wang Zhaoguo (王兆国), Vice Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, presented to the legislature an “Explanatory Note” on the pending legislation, which detailed the content of the current draft. At a press conference that day, Lang Sheng (郎胜), Vice Chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the 11th NPC, emphasized to reporters that “there is no ‘secret detention and arrest’ in our country, and there is no such provision in the law.” (我国没有“秘密拘捕”，法律也没有这样的规定。) On the same day, many media stories and observers reported progress in curbing police power which was expanded in the proposed new Article 73 provision on residential surveillance in the August 2011 draft. In addition to extensive concerns raised by legal experts, Chinese netizens have expressed concerns not only about the controversial provision, but also about apparent procedural irregularities in the legislative process. This public online discussion has also been targeted by censors, who have blocked search results for “National People’s Congress Standing Committee” and “Standing Committee.”
An earlier draft of the proposed revised CPL, made public in August 2011, attracted over 80,000 comments. (Draft revisions are available in Chinese original and in English translation by the Danish Institute for Human Rights.)
That draft included several positive provisions such as judicial oversight of compulsory psychiatric treatment and increased protection for juvenile suspects. However, a new draft provision, Article 73, expanded and in effect legalized the widespread practice of secret residential surveillance not authorized by existing law. The article drew heavy criticism from Chinese and international legal experts.
Notwithstanding the assertion in the “Explanatory Note” that the Standing Committee had circulated a draft of the proposed revisions to NPC deputies on January 11, Chinese language media reported that many NPC deputies said they did not receive the proposed draft until they arrived in Beijing to attend the NPC session which opened on March 5. Article 15 of the Legislation Law of the People's Republic of China states: “When the Standing Committee decides to submit a legislative bill to a session of the National People's Congress for deliberation, it shall distribute the draft bill to the deputies one month before the session is convoked.” (Translation source.)
Restriction of Public Discussions
On March 11, Xiong Wei (熊伟), a researcher on citizen participation in the legislative process, posted a message on his micro-blog (weibo) urging the NPC to delay the vote because the process did not conform to Article 15 of the Legislation Law.
This message was deleted several hours after it was posted, by which time, the message had already been reposted more 18,000 times. After the removal of the original message, a weibo user posted a comment on Xiong Wei’s weibo that included his reposting of Xiong Wei’s message. Subsequently, Xiong Wei posted another similar message, but it too, appeared to have been removed on March 13.
On March 11, Xue Manzi (薛蛮子), a successful businessman, launched a public opinion survey on Sina weibo, posing the question: “Should the NPC vote on Article 73 of the proposed revised CPL?” Access to the survey was blocked in a matter of hours, after it had generated more than 10,000 responses, of which 93% voted “no.”
Together with the NPC Standing Committee issuing an “Explanatory Note” instead of making public the current draft, censorship of public online discussion raises a number of troubling questions on the eve of the scheduled vote: What exactly does the proposed legislation include? What are the main revisions to the current draft since the draft reportedly disseminated to the delegates in January 2012? Why were recent online discussions of the procedural and substantive questions censored?