BEIJING, March 14, 2012 -- After the last revision 16 years ago, China amended the Criminal Procedure Law and highlighted human rights protection, eight years after the principle was explicitly written in the Constitution.
The National People's Congress (NPC), China's parliament, adopted the amendment Wednesday with overwhelming votes at the closing meeting of annual parliamentary session, presided over by NPC Standing Committee Chairman Wu Bangguo.
The phrase of "respecting and protecting human rights" is written in the revised law's first chapter on aim and basic principles.
"The highlight of this revision is to better embody the constitutional principle of respecting and protecting human rights," said Wang Liming, deputy president of Renmin University of China and an NPC deputy.
Personal freedom should be honored as the most essential human right, Wang said.
The revised law stresses protecting suspects and defendants from illegal restriction, detention and arrest, which is an important contribution to protecting personal freedom of every citizen, he said.
China's current Criminal Procedure Law was enacted in 1979 and first amended in 1996.
Over the past years, many lawmakers submitted motions and suggestions urging the law's revision, and law enforcement departments also expressed similar opinions.
Since China is in a transition period with prominent incidence of conflicts, problems emerging in judicial practice require the law to be improved, said Prof. Chen Weidong, from the Law School of Renmin University of China, who took part in drafting the amendment.
Several high-profile cases, in which innocent people were convicted of serious crimes, have exposed weakness in law enforcement, especially concerning forced confession.
In 2010, the story of Zhao Zuohai, a villager in central Henan Province, roused national sympathy as he had spent ten years in prison for murdering a man who was actually alive.
Zhao was acquitted and released from prison after the supposedly murdered victim showed up alive. That led to the arrest of three former police officers for allegedly torturing Zhao into confessing to a crime that never happened.
In the revised law, it is written that no one would be forced to prove their own guilt, together with provisions on how to rule out illegal evidence.
For the first time, the law makes it clear that confessions extorted through illegal means, such as torture, and witness testimony and depositions of victims obtained illegally, such as by violence or threats, should be excluded during the trials.