China approves controversial criminal law changes | News | DW | 14.03.2012
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China approves controversial criminal law changes

China's annual session of parliament has passed changes regarding the police's power to detain people. The People's Congress also slightly reduced its economic growth target for the first time in years.

China's parliament, the People's Congress, has wrapped up its annual session by approving a controversial amendment to a key criminal law regarding police powers of detention.

The changes, which lawmakers passed by a vote of 2,639 to 160, were seen as the most significant legislation to come out of this year's session.

Some say the amendment will give police the legal authority to do something they have long been known to do - holding people regarded as a threat to the Communist Party at secret locations for months at a time.

"The legislation would provide dangerous exemptions from due process for entire categories of criminal suspects, including those who simply wish to peacefully express their opinion," Amnesty International said in a statement.

Others, though, have welcomed a clause in the amendment that would require police to inform the families of people held outside of formal detention centers within 24 hours of their arrest.

A lawyer and friend of internationally acclaimed artist Ai Weiwei, who is among those to have been detained using this tactic over the past year, described this as "obvious progress."

"But when all is said and done, the law is only written on paper, and the crux is whether law enforcement agencies will strictly respect it," Liu Xiaoyuan wrote in his blog.

Lower growth target

Lawmakers also passed this year's budget, and reduced its economic growth target for the first time in nine years, cutting it back to 7.5 percent from eight percent.

Premier Wen Jiabao told a press conference following the session that this was largely due to weakness in export markets.

"Due to the European debt crisis and a shrinking external market, there are downward pressures on the Chinese economy. Under such circumstances, we lowered the growth-rate target mainly to allow for structural adjustment," the 69-year-old Wen said.

The premier also used what was to be his last People's Congress before stepping down to call for reform.

"We must press ahead with both economic structural reform and political structural reform, in particular in the leadership system of our party and country," Wen said.

"Without a successful political structural reform, it is impossible for us to fully institute economic structural reform and gains we have made in this area may be lost," he said.

The Congress was also marked by behind-the-scenes jockeying, as both Wen and President Hu Jintao are set to step down over the next year.

pfd/ncy (AP, AFP, Reuters)