BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese man who agitated for an investigation into the suspicious death of an activist has been detained at an unknown location, his lawyer said on Monday, describing him as possibly the first to be held under a controversial new law that allows secret detention.
Authorities in Shaoyang city in central Hunan province told family members of Zhu Chengzhi, 62, last Friday that he would be put under “residential surveillance” under “Article 73”, Zhu’s wife, Zeng Qiulian, told Reuters by telephone on Monday. Article 73 legalizes detaining people in secret.
The detention comes a day after China said it will reform its system of forced labor camps this year, marking a first step toward legal reform promised by new Communist Party chief Xi Jinping.
Article 73 legalizes a practice that began in earnest in 2011. Fearing that anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world could inspire challenges to Communist rule, the government unlawfully held dozens of activists, including artist Ai Weiwei, for weeks or months in secret detention.
The new law allows police to detain people they suspect of crimes related to state security, terrorism or serious corruption in a designated location.
Families would be notified within 24 hours, but police are not required to disclose the whereabouts of the person detained and can deny access to a lawyer.
Police had charged Zhu with “incitement to subvert state power” after he posted photos online following the death of his friend, Li Wangyang, who was found in a hospital ward in Shaoyang, his neck tied with a noose made from cotton bandages.
Authorities said it was suicide - a verdict that angered thousands of scholars, lawyers and activists.
“They told me they were moving him to a hotel,” his wife, Zeng, said, adding that police declined to disclose his whereabouts.
The Shaoyang public security bureau was not available for comment.
Liu Xiaoyuan, Zhu’s lawyer, said he believed Zhu was the first Chinese person to be held under the secret detention laws. The Justice Ministry was not available for comment.
Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee