The disappearance of Christian human rights campaigners is set to continue in China under draft legislation that would legalise the secret detention of suspects seen as a possible threat to national security.
Release International warns targets are likely to include Christian leaders and Christian human rights campaigners, who remain at risk.
China’s draft Criminal Procedure Law was unveiled on Thursday with a fanfare that it would "respect and safeguard human rights". The law would require the police to notify the families of suspects who have been detained. But there is an important exception: if the authorities accuse someone of subversion or being a threat to state security they will be under no obligation to tell their families where they are.
"We fear the disappearances are set to continue," says Release International’s CEO Andy Dipper. "All too often Christian pastors and human rights activists are regarded as political dissidents and branded a threat to state security. Christians have been arrested, kept under surveillance and even tortured. Christian human rights lawyers have been 'disappeared' in an attempt to intimidate and silence them. That looks set to continue."
China received international protest for seizing lawyers critical of human rights abuses in China. Among these have been Christians Jiang Tianyong and Gao Zhisheng.
Both lawyers disappeared after criticising the government. Jiang was later released and spoke out about attempts to intimidate him. But another Christian lawyer Gao Zhisheng vanished without trace after making allegations of severe torture. Months later, the authorities admitted he was being held in Xinjiang Prison.
Release partner Bob Fu, of China Aid, warned the new law would further legitimise lengthy arbitrary detention for political and religious cases. "It will legalise the enforced disappearance of Chinese citizens deemed as 'national security or terrorism' cases. These will include political dissenters, house church leaders, human rights defenders such as Gao Zhisheng and Jiang Tianyong, as well as Tibetans and Uyghurs in west China."
"The authorities want legislation only for the sake of preserving stability, that is, restricting citizens’ rights," Jiang Tianyong told Reuters. He also criticised the secret detention powers enshrined in the new legislation.
Gao Zhisheng was missing for 20 months after campaigning for human rights in China, and remains in jail. Last year artist Ai Weiwei was held for 81 days and China rounded up human rights lawyers in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the Arab Spring uprisings on the streets of Beijing.
"The more Christians and others campaign for basic human freedoms in China, the more the authorities arrest them – which all just goes to prove their point," says Release CEO Andy Dipper.
"China is becoming a mighty nation. The authorities must begin to show the self-confidence to allow basic freedoms, such as the freedom of religion, without regarding those who call for change as a threat to national security."
Through its international network of missions Release International serves persecuted Christians in 30 countries by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.