China lawmakers clarify role of riot police

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese lawmakers on Thursday passed legislation bolstering central control of paramilitary police and spelling out their role in quelling riots and protests, less then two months after deadly unrest in Xinjiang.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, approved a law governing the People’s Armed Police (PAP), the security force used to quell domestic unrest, as well as guarding officials and key installations, the China News Service said.

The PAP would “participate in handling riots, disruptions, serious violent crimes, terror attacks and other emergencies.”

The PAP has 660,000 troops, the government said in 2006. Its role in enforcing Communist Party control was recently highlighted in Xinjiang, the far-west region where Muslim Uighurs rioted on July 5, killing at least 197 people, most of them Han Chinese.

The PAP was also used to stifle protests across Tibetan areas last year. It is conspicuous on the streets of the capital, Beijing, especially around big events such as last year’s Olympic Games and the upcoming October 1 celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

An earlier draft of the law suggested county-level officials could mobilize PAP troops in some situations. A subsequent revision removed that authorization amid fears that local officials could inflame unrest by mobilizing troops.

“The provision that county-level authorities could mobilize and use People’s Armed Police aroused considerable misgivings,” Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.

The law says the State Council, or cabinet, and the Central Military Commission, which oversees both the People’s Liberation Army and the PAP, can mobilize and deploy the PAP. But it says governments above the county level can request their involvement.

“Given the increasing role of the PAP, it’s important to clarify their role… That doesn’t mean it’s illegitimate to deploy riot troops when there is rioting,” said Nicholas Bequelin, of Human Rights Watch, adding there were concerns over the PAP’s detention of suspects, especially in Tibet.

“The question is whether the troops are accountable and use proportional violence in quelling incidents.”

The law says that although the PAP can dispel crowds that threaten social order and establish checkpoints to cordon off an area, troops are limited in detaining or searching people or raiding homes without a warrant.

China’s legislature is controlled by the ruling Communist Party. The Standing Committee is an inner council that meets more often than the annual full parliamentary session.

Usually a draft law must be considered at three separate legislative sessions before it can become law, but this time the Committee made an exception, putting it onto the books after only two readings.

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