Top legislature is set to outlaw coercive tactics
BEIJING - Property owners in China may soon see the end of forced demolitions, which have triggered conflicts and even seen people set themselves on fire in their desperation to hang onto their homes.
A draft law being discussed by the nation's top legislature calls for an end to the use of violence, intimidation and other illegal means by both local administrations looking to take possession of people's homes and third-parties acting on their behalf.
It also rules out such property seizures taking place on holidays or at night, unless there is an emergency that justifies it.
The draft law on administrative coercion was submitted for its fourth review on Wednesday, two years after it was last reviewed.
According to the Legislation Law, draft laws can be abolished if they are not reviewed within two years of their previous reading by the legislature.
Qiao Xiaoyang, deputy director of the National People's Congress (NPC) Law Committee, told members of the NPC Standing Committee that the fourth draft, which is designed to regularize administrative coercive power, also seeks to "protect people's legal rights and supervise administrations in the performance of their duties in accordance with the law".
Qiao, who made the remarks during a three-day bimonthly session of the top legislature, said the draft law has gradually been refined during the past six years and noted that the committee has solicited more than 3,800 suggestions from the public since its third review in 2009.
Ying Songnian, a senior legal expert on administrative laws who helped compose the first draft of the administrative coercion law, told China Daily that the latest draft was "close to implementation, despite minor defects".
In the latest draft, the power to use coercive measures rests with "legislatures at national and local levels", a move hailed by legal experts as "great progress" because it will restrain local government bodies and ministries under the central government from misusing administrative coercive power.
The State Council, China's Cabinet, can approve such evictions in certain circumstances.
Zhan Zhongle, a professor of administrative law at Peking University, told China Daily that administrations responsible for social management are facing increasing challenges and more and more complicated social circumstances.
"For this reason, government departments hope they can be authorized to have administrative power equal to their rising responsibilities and challenges," he said.
For instance, the draft law entrusts chengguan, or urban management officers, to carry out administrative coercive measures, including closing down places and facilities and impounding property, as stipulated in laws and local regulations.
"Such stipulations may be necessary for the daily work of chengguan officers but that could lead to power being abused," Zhan said.
In recent years, chengguan officers have frequently been blamed for violent law enforcement, causing conflicts and even deaths in connection with their efforts to keep unlicensed vendors off city streets.
Zhan added: "It (the latest draft) can be seen as an attempt from the top legislature to restrain administrative coercive power on one hand, and to maintain their ability to undertake social management on the other."
He admitted that discrepancies between the expectations of the administrations and the top legislature were a major reason why the draft law's passage had been so slow.
"It is one of the most long-awaited laws in China's legal history. It has been more than 12 years since my colleagues and I started to draft the first version in the 1990s," said the 75-year-old Ying.