Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Efficient law enforcement

Law enforcement in China would lose much of its efficiency "if the police lose their ability to detain perceived troublemakers without the interference of judges or defense lawyers," according to law enforcement officials.

Andrew Jacobs, writing in the New York Times reports finding evidence of a political movement to end the ability of "security officials" to imprison people because they are a threat to public stability.

A political movement in China outside the Party? How can that be? How would it exercise influence? Is it more than a reporter's wishful thinking?

Opposition to Labor Camps Widens in China
It is hard to say exactly which “subversive” sentiments drew the police to Ren Jianyu, who posted them on his microblog last year, although “down with dictatorship” and “long live democracy” stand out.
In the end, Mr. Ren, 25, a college graduate from Chongqing, the southwestern metropolis, was sent without trial to a work camp... 

Last year Mr. Ren was among tens of thousands of Chinese who were dumped into the nation’s vast “re-education through labor” system, a Stalinist-inspired constellation of penal colonies where pickpockets, petitioners, underground Christian church members and other perceived social irritants toil in dismal conditions for up to four years, all without trial.

But now the labor system, known by its shorthand, laojiao, is facing a groundswell of opposition from both inside and outside the Communist Party. Critics say the once-in-a-decade leadership transition last month, which included the demotion of the chief of the nation’s vast internal security apparatus, has created a potential opening for judicial and legal reform.

The calls for change go beyond longstanding advocates of political reform… China’s national bar association is circulating an online petition… Legal experts have convened seminars to denounce the system. And almost every day, it seems, the state-run news media, with the top leadership’s tacit support, report on hapless citizens ensnared by the arbitrary justice that the local police impose with the wave of a hand…

People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, took aim at the system last month, saying it had become “a tool of retaliation” for local officials.

China’s incoming president, Xi Jinping, has not yet weighed in on the issue, but reform advocates are encouraged by a speech he gave this month talking up the widely ignored protections afforded by China’s Constitution, which include freedom from unlawful detention and the right to an open trial. “We must establish mechanisms to restrain and supervise power,” Mr. Xi said.

Until now, China’s powerful security establishment has staved off any erosion of its authority, warning of calamity if the police lose their ability to detain perceived troublemakers without the interference of judges or defense lawyers.

The Ministry of Public Security has other reasons to preserve the status quo. The system, which employs tens of thousands of people, is a gold mine for local authorities, who earn money from the goods produced by detainees. Officials also covet the bribes offered to reduce sentences, critics say, and the payments families make to ensure a loved one is properly fed while in custody…

China’s internal security machine… grew by leaps and bounds in the decade under President Hu Jintao’s campaign for “social stability.” The annual $110 billion security budget now exceeds China’s military spending…

Rights advocates say a genuine overhaul of the laojiao system would require, among other things, allowing victims access to lawyers and the right to appeal. But many of them fear that party leaders may instead opt for only modest modifications…

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