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BEIJING - Coercive measures taken by the authorities will be restricted and citizens' rights better protected under a newly passed law that curbs governments' power following the end of its 12-year journey through the drafting and debate stage.
Some of the authorities' most unpopular coercive measures - such as the forced demolitions that have driven some victims to such extreme acts of resistance as self-immolation - have been outlawed under the new law approved by legislators on Thursday.
The law, which was reviewed by top lawmakers on five occasions during the past six years, aims to "protect people's rights while still entrusting administrations with the necessary power to perform their duties", said Xin Chunying, deputy director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee.
Xin said administrations that are responsible for social management are facing ever-changing and more complicated circumstances. Meanwhile, their powers, if abused, can infringe on people, who are usually more vulnerable than the authorities.
The seven-chapter regulation stipulates that all coercive measures must be instituted by laws, with a small proportion of exceptions for special circumstances, such as State secrets.
China previously had at least 260 types of administrative coercive measure in place, according to research conducted in 1999 as the drafting of the law started.
"And the random institution of such measures was very common in local regulations," Xin said.
The new law also rules out violent law enforcement or actions taking place on holidays or at night, unless there is an emergency.
Ying Songnian, one of the legal experts on the drafting panel, told China Daily the passage of the law to "curb administrative power" faced unusual difficulties.
Since its first reading in 2005, the NPC Standing Committee reviewed the draft five times. In August 2009, the top legislature published the draft to seek public opinion and received more than 3,800 suggestions, according to the NPC's statistics.
China's Legislation Law says a draft law can be submitted for a vote after three readings.
"It is natural for a law to be met with resistance from the authorities, if it intends to supervise them," said Ma Huaide, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law.
Ma once predicted that the draft would be passed in 2009 after it was debated for a third time. His optimistic prediction, in some ways, reflected the difficulties the top legislature faced in cutting the "melon" among different interest groups.
"Who has the right to institute coercive measures" was one of the key issues being deliberated during the six years, he said.
During its first reading, the draft stipulated that such measures should be set by law "in principle", while allowing regional regulations to institute similar measures.
"The final version, compared with the first draft, is more strict on when the government can set coercive measures," said Zhan Zhongle, a professor of administrative law at Peking University. "You can imagine how difficult it could be to reach such an agreement among lawmakers and local governments."
As one of the most long-awaited laws in China's legal history and as one that won a high number of votes among lawmakers, Zhan said the interest in the law shows the public's expectations of the government to improve its way of social management.
Administrative coercion law
The first draft of the Administrative Coercion Law stipulates that administrative coercive measures should be, in principle, determined by law. It also rules that government regulations and local regulations may determine some coercive measures.
The second draft stipulates that authorities should immediately lift the restriction of personal freedom as long as the aims of the restriction have been achieved or the conditions of the restriction have disappeared.
The third draft adds articles that any government department that plans to draft laws or regulations with coercive measures should hold public hearings to solicit opinion. It forbids sealing-up or confiscating the living necessities of citizens and their dependants and stipulates that administrative coercive measures should be implemented only by qualified law enforcers from government departments.
The fourth draft changes the rules in the first draft and stipulates that government regulations and local regulations cannot set coercive measures if relevant laws do not include such measures.
The fifth draft stipulates that citizens, legal persons or other organizations may raise suggestions to the government departments that set or implement administrative coercive measures. The departments should seriously consider and research the suggestions and offer feedback. (Source: National People's Congress)