China's parliament has dropped controversial plans to legalize the detention of suspects in secret locations, following a public outcry over an increase in forced disappearances by police.
The latest draft of China's Criminal Procedure Law introduced Thursday at the National People's Congress removed a clause that would allow police to secretly "disappear" criminal suspects deemed a threat to national security without notifying their families.
Legislative vice chairman Wang Zhaoguo defended China's current criminal procedure as "reasonable," but said the revised law was necessary to further protect the rights of criminal suspects.
"It is necessary to discuss and revise the criminal procedure law according to the experiences and public opinions. The law must be amended and improved in accordance with the policy of deepening the judicial system reform," said Wang.
Human rights activists praised the revision, saying it is a welcome first step in improving human rights in the authoritarian country. But they warned it likely will not do away completely with secret detentions, noting the proposed law still allows police to detain "terror suspects" in traditional facilities without notifying their families.
Forced disappearances are commonly used to silence dissidents in China. Instances of such detentions have increased dramatically in recent months, as Beijing has sought to prevent popular uprisings like those that spread through parts of the Middle East and North Africa in 2011.
Many of the Chinese disappearances date back years and remain unresolved. They include the 1995 disappearance of Tibetan Buddhist Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, known as the 11th Panchen Lama, who disappeared at age six. Chinese authorities have admitted taking him, but have never said where he is.
Other noted detentions include those of prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, renowned artist Ai Weiwei and Nobel laureate Liu Xiabao. Gao was detained without charges for more than a year and then returned to prison in December 2011 for allegedly violating terms of an earlier probation. Activist Ai was arrested in April 2011 and held incommunicado for weeks before authorities announced charges of economic crimes. Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for allegedly inciting subversion of state power after he published a manifesto for democratic changes in China.
The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances last year said Chinese citizens suspected of dissent are routinely taken to secret detention facilities, where they often face torture and are otherwise intimidated. Once released, they are frequently placed in "soft detention" and barred from contacting the outside world.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.