Changes to protest law put organisers 'at greater risk'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2005, 12:00am

Detentions can be easily justified, legal experts say

Lawyers and activists have expressed concern over new laws on social stability, saying instigators and organisers of public protests are at greater risk of being detained by police.

The law, passed on Sunday by the National People's Congress Standing Committee, covers penalties for offences against public order. It states 'instigators' and 'masterminds' of illegal mass protests could be detained up to 15 days.

Chengdu University law lecturer Wang Yi called the law an 'obvious regression'.

Lawyers could previously argue a person was not disrupting social order by holding a demonstration. Such a defence was no longer possible under the new law. 'Now police can justify detention of people and there would be no way of bringing a lawsuit,' Professor Wang said.

The law also needed to better define 'instigators' and 'masterminds'.

'What's the difference between organising and mastermind? And between instigate and [spreading] information' about the protests? 'They ought to set the standard of such words by looking at the consequence and content of the activities.'

To avoid detention, protesters must now formally apply for permission to hold a protest, he said, which police rarely gave.

Yang Maodong , who writes under the name Guo Feixiong , was detained for more than two weeks after applying in April to hold an anti-Japan demonstration in the capital.

The city's public security bureau told him no demonstrations had been approved since 2001. He suspected it was the same case in other large cities. Yang said the revision allowed police to detain people even before demonstrations were held.

'This will push China towards growing social instability because social conflicts remained unsolved,' he said.

Teng Biao , a part-time lecturer at China University of Political Science and Law, said the new law sent a warning to weiquan lawyers, or those protecting civil rights, and petitioners not to become involved in protests.

He recalled a law school student being detained for a day for 'illegal assembly' - giving legal advice to hundreds of farmers from Hubei about three years ago.

It would be hard for detainees to appeal, he said.

'The police and the courts are in the same family.'

Mark Allison, a researcher for Amnesty International, is not only concerned about vague terms like 'inciting' and 'illegal assembly', but also abuses of power by the police.