China's National People's Congress (NPC) on Wednesday passed a law [draft amendment text, in Chinese] allowing police to detain certain suspects for up to six months in secret detention facilities commonly known as "black jails." The new law is an amendment to China's Criminal Procedure Law and allows for the arrest and secret detention [JURIST news archive] of those suspected of threatening the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) [official website]. The law also includes a provision that requires officials to alert the relatives of a suspect who has been detained within 24 hours of such detention. The bill passed in the NPC with a vote of 2,639 delegates in favor of the legislation and only 160 delegates opposing [AFP report] the controversial measure. In a statement [text] released prior to the NPC vote, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged China not pass the new law because it is "a clear danger for government critics and human rights activists, and ... [places China in] clear contravention of [its] international obligations."
China's detention policies for those suspected of subversion have long been criticized, particularly in regard to the arrest and detention of political dissidents. In January Chinese authorities on sentenced prominent rights activist Li Tie [JURIST report] to 10 years in prison for subversion, marking the third such sentence in a month. Chinese Human Rights Defenders [advocacy website] rejected the decision and said that such harsh sentences would do nothing to prevent or curb the social unrest. Another activist, Chen Xi was sentenced to 10 years [JURIST report] in late December 2011 for publishing political essays online. In that same month a court sentenced Chen Wei to nine years in prison [JURIST report]. In early January dissident Zhu Yufu was charged with subversion for writing and publishing a poem on the Internet that urged people to act in support of freedom [BBC report]. Two longer sentences for subversion convictions belong to Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who has been serving an 11-year sentence [JURIST report] since 2009, and Liu Xianbin, who was jailed for 10 years in March 2011.