China's top prosecutor's office issues test rules to tackle prolonged detentions

Top procuratorate releases new guidelines for holding criminal suspects but rights advocates say they will do little for detainees in the system

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 August, 2015, 11:35pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2015, 10:41pm

The top prosecutor's office in China has issued new test rules aimed at stamping out prolonged detention of criminal suspects.

But rights lawyers and legal experts said the trial regulations were unlikely to improve the situation for detainees, especially those held on human rights and political grounds.

The Supreme People's Procuratorate released the full text of the test rules on its website yesterday. They were issued and came into effect on June 1.

Under the regulations, procuratorial officers will issue rectification notices to the police if cases of prolonged detention are uncovered at detention centres. On receiving a notice, police should within seven days release the suspects or apply for an extension to keep holding them.

The procuratorate will monitor police to ensure they fast-track cases of suspects being held for over five years without being sentenced.

The top procuratorate will handle directly any cases in which the detention exceeds the legally prescribed limit by more than six months or when suspects are detained for over eight years without receiving a verdict.

The Criminal Procedure Law allows criminal suspects to be held for up to 37 days before being either arrested or released. After a formal arrest, a suspect can held for up to seven months while police investigate and another six and a half months while prosecutors decide to file an indictment.

But Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Liu Jinxue said the law allowed local courts to repeatedly apply to the Supreme People's Court for trial extensions if the case was "special", without specifying what cases would qualify for such an application.

Liu said his client Sun Desheng, an activist detained in August 2013 after taking part in a public protest against media censorship outside the offices of Southern Weekly, was still waiting for the outcome of his trial.

"The court in Guangzhou told me last week that the verdict in Sun's case was postponed for three months again, as approved by the Supreme People's Court. It was already the second time they had delayed it. And they can just do it again and again," Liu said.

He said the test rules were mainly aimed at detentions that did not comply with procedures, but the handling of political and human rights case was usually approved by the authorities.

Joshua Rosenzweig, a Hong Kong-based independent human rights researcher, said the law already had a lot of flexibility in detention and trial periods.

"The law gives them so much leeway to extend deadlines set by the law basically by just asking for it without any institution to scrutinise whether they are justified," he said.

"These guidelines are addressing the problem in a superficial way. The deeper problem requires not only a revision of the Criminal Procedure Law, but a reform of the legal system to allow an independent judiciary."

Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, said: "The Supreme People's Procuratorate long ago recognised the problem of unlawful extended detention when it passed provisions to address this problem back in 2003. The 'new' SPP work regulations are just old wine in a new bottle.

"A fundamental obstacle remains - a triple-standard approach to handling criminal cases. Big cases, such as those of [rights lawyers] Guo Feixiong and Pu Zhiqiang, are resolved politically; mid-range cases are resolved depending on their perceived public impact, and it’s only the small cases that are resolved according to law."