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New law leaves Catholics vulnerable

Laymen, underground priests say changes do little to free them from arbitrary arrest

New law leaves Catholics vulnerable
The Great Hall of the People, where the plenary meeting of National People reporter, Hong Kong

March 22, 2012

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Revisions to China’s Criminal Procedure Law have exposed Catholic clergy to further restrictions on the underground Church, according to a layman in Hong Kong. Patrick Poon, a member of the diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission, said the final text of the law, published by the China’s official Xinhua News Agency on March 17, left a “blind spot” that could be used by authorities to continue detaining priests and others without charge. The revised law included changes to the wording of the controversial Article 73 relating to secret detentions. Article 73 had spurred wide condemnation in and outside China for what critics said would effectively legalize secret detentions. In its original form, Article 73 allowed for the detention of anyone suspected of endangering state security and engaging in terrorism under house surveillance for up to six months without any legal obligation to inform family members. “Since the definition of state security endangerment and terrorism is ambiguous, apparently the article that singles out these two crimes is tailored for political dissidents and ethnic minorities of Tibetan and Uyghur origin in western China,” Poon said. The wording of these two crimes has been dropped in the approved law, which means authorities will now be obliged to inform family members of detainees within 24 hours of detention regardless of their crime. He said the amendments showed that authorities were “making a concession amid criticisms,” but that people should pay attention to how the law would be implemented next year. However, Poon said Catholic priests and other personnel could likely be even more vulnerable under the revised law. “Though underground clergy rarely face these two charges, police tend to confine them in detention centers, guesthouses or force them to take the so-called learning class for a prolonged period of time without giving any reason,” he said. “The revisions do not deal with Church personnel and fail to address what is the disciplinary treatment for the officials if they do not observe the law,” he said. Some “underground” priests are also pessimistic about the revised law. One underground priest who asked not to be named observed that the general public has little concern for the revisions, as they are disappointed at the lack of mechanisms to appeal against the authorities’ enforcement of the law. They know “the will of law enforcement agencies is above everything,” he said. Another underground cleric who also declined to be named said the inclusion of “respecting and protecting human rights” in the revised law’s first chapter but thinks it amounts to little more than an empty slogan. A third underground priest pointed added that “our plight is not just caused by imperfect laws. It is caused by the system, which the law cannot change but is serving it.” Related reports Government steps up suppression Underground bishop undergoes ‘study’ Rule of law plays rule of man
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