China: draft counter-terror law ‘recipe for abuses’

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Jan. 20 that the Chinese government should radically revise its proposed legislation on counter-terrorism to make it consistent with international law and the protection of human rights. The draft law was made public for consultation in November and is expected to be adopted in 2015 after minimal revisions. HRW charges that the draft law's definition of what constitutes "terrorism" is "dangerously vague and open-ended," constituting a "recipe for abuses."

The draft defines terrorism as "thought, speech, or behavior" that attempt to "influence national policy-making," "subvert state power," or "split the state". This broad application of terrorism would allow the government to take action against seemingly innocuous actions, such as requesting a policy change. The concern of vagueness is also present in the nebulous powers awarded to the new coordinating body against counterterrorism which state only that they possess "all powers" necessary to carry out their mission, without any due process protections given to potential detainees.

The Chinese government claims the proposed legislation responds to and conforms with UN Security Council resolutions urging countries to take measures to combat and strengthen their cooperation against terrorism. But HRW points out that such resolutions have also stressed that countries need to "ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law… in particular international human rights, refugee, and humanitarian law." (Security Council Resolution 1456-2003) HRW charges that this is "something that China's proposed legislation clearly does not do. " It also protests that under the language of the bill, terrorism is conflated with religious "extremism," a definition that could be used to justify presecution of the Musilm Uighur minority.

HRW also contends that the law would instate a "total digital surveillance architecture subject to no legal or legislative control," and would allow law enforcement arbitrary powers, without legal recourse for those targeted. HRW also notes the law would empower China's armed forces to conduct "counterterrorism missions" beyond China's borders. (HRW, Jurist, Jan. 20)