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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

China's Activists Petition Congress on Detentions

BEIJING -- Chinese intellectuals have presented their fourth petition to parliament in a week, demanding the legislature repeal police powers to detain suspects for months or even years without formal charges.

"This was mailed to the National People's Congress on Feb. 28," one signatory said Friday.

Several Chinese dissidents, long chastened by extended prison terms and intrusive police surveillance, have burst into a rare flurry of activity this week with a series of appeals to parliament demanding human rights, an end to one-party rule and judicial independence.

The latest petition demands the rubber-stamp parliament, which begins its annual session Sunday, revoke police powers to hold citizens for investigation for virtually unlimited periods without charges.

"Where is the meaning of the constitution if the State Council and the Public Security Ministry can issue directives to restrict and deprive citizens of their freedom?" says the petition signed by 12 of China's most prominent dissidents and intellectuals.

Last week, the 12 scholars, including two dismissed editors of the party mouthpiece

The People's Daily and several dissident intellectuals jailed after the army crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, filed a petition urging government action to curb corruption.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday all citizens had the right to petition parliament -- except for criminals deprived of their political rights. Some of the signatories fall into that category.

The newest petition says one million people were detained each year without charges from 1988 to 1990, and said the practice was based on secret documents issued by the cabinet and police and not ratified into law.

"The fatal flaw in detention-for-investigation is that it infringes on the lawmaking authority that ought to belong only to the country's lawmaking bodies ... and goes on to violate citizens' personal freedoms that are protected under the constitution," it says.

China's criminal code provides for up to 10 days detention in criminal investigations. But, under the detention-for-investigation policy, people have been detained for up to seven years, it said.

It demanded parliament investigate detention centers and people detained in them and report to its standing committee. It urged the standing committee to revoke the police powers.

This week, former Chinese student leader Wang Dan and more than 20 other signatories sent two petitions to parliament, demanding legislators abolish the punishment of re-education through labor and urging safeguards for basic human rights and protection of justice.

The unusually bold actions were carefully timed to precede Sunday's opening of the annual session of parliament.

They come at a time when the party is at pains to show it welcomes open discussion and listens to public opinion -- and may be less likely to muzzle its critics.