Controversial Anti-Terrorism Law May Pass This Month

Reuters’ reports that the draft of a controversial anti-terrorism law, under review at the ongoing National People’s Congress session in Beijing, looks set to pass this month. Previous drafts of the law, which failed to pass the NPC early this year, had attracted criticism from activists for having the potential to erode religious, ethnic, and political rights; from foreign diplomats and multinational companies for data disclosure requirements; and from legal scholars for its broad definition of terrorism. Ben Blanchard, David Brunnstrom, Julia Love, and Deborah M. Todd report:

Officials at the meeting believe the draft for the law is “already quite mature” and have “suggested” it be put forward for approval, Xinhua said, without elaborating.

The initial draft, published by parliament late last year, requires companies to keep servers and user data within China, supply law enforcement authorities with communications records and censor -related Internet content.

[…] Emery Simon, counselor at BSA The Software Alliance, a trade group representing IBM, Microsoft Corp and other tech firms, said the group has not seen a final draft of the bill, so it cannot determine whether the Chinese government included suggestions made by it or other industry representatives.

Without changes, he said, it “still presents serious concerns in terms of how security technology will be used and whether or not we’re going to have to do things in China that we have not been required to do in any other market.”

[…] China is drafting the anti-terrorism law at a time when officials say it faces a growing threat from militants and separatists, especially in its unruly far Western region of .

Hundreds have died in in the past few years in Xinjiang. Beijing blames the trouble on Islamist militants. […] [Source]

For Deutsche-Welle, Cherie Chan reports that concerns about the new draft’s definition of “terrorism,” and its implications on human rights also resound:

The new draft of the law includes a provision stating that “no institutions or individuals” shall report or disseminate details of terrorist activities that might lead to “imitation.” It would also prohibit people from publishing scenes of “cruelty and inhumanity” in terrorist activities.

[…] “The law raises serious concerns about restriction on , as the definition of terrorism in China is vague and broad,” Patrick Poon China researcher of Amnesty International, told DW.

[…] Apart from the problematic definition of “terrorism,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told DW that there is also a need to define the meaning of “generating social panic.”

“When such harsh consequences flow from such vaguely-defined laws, it leaves the Chinese government, already deeply dismissive of basic human rights protection, all the more room to violate rights,” says Richardson.

[…] “The new law would even legitimize the currently vaguely-defined criminal charges against dissidents, such as inciting subversion of state power and separatism,” says Poon. “Anyone can easily fall into this trap if she or he posted comments like what Pu Zhiqiang did.” [See CDT coverage of the Pu Zhiqiang trial and recent sentencing] [Source]

More from Reuters, via the Indian Express, on the law’s potential to further restrict the media from reporting on violence:

The official People’s Daily said the law’s new draft includes a provision that media and social media cannot report on details of terror activities that might lead to imitation, nor show scenes that are “cruel and inhuman”.

[…] Chinese state-run media already operates under strict controls when it comes to reporting on terrorism, and the government brooks no challenge to its official accounts of attacks or other incidents.

[…] The government looks poorly on anyone who seeks to challenge the official narrative of its response to the problems in Xinjiang or how it tackles terror attacks. In 2014, a Chinese court jailed for life the country’s most prominent advocate for the rights of the Uighur people, economics professor Ilham Tohti. [Source]

For more on jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, or on government efforts to strictly control the media narrative on violence in Xinjiang, see prior coverage via CDT.

Amid Beijing’s ongoing “war on terror,” officials have repeatedly attempted to tie domestic violence to the global jihad movement. After last month’s attacks in Paris, central authorities called for an increase in domestic counterterror efforts. President Xi vowed to join the international community in global efforts, and castigated the West for exercising “double standards” regarding terrorism in China. This week, China called for more international anti-terror cooperation, citing the Russian plane taken down along the Syrian border last month as an example of failure that must be avoided.

The U.S. State Department has expressed concern with the current draft anti-terror law, claiming that it could “do more harm than good” in the fight against terrorism, and could harm U.S. trade and investment in China. Reuters’ David Brunnstrom reports:

[State Department spokeswoman Gabrielle Price] also criticized a Chinese law passed this year and proposed legislation on foreign non-government organizations “We strongly believe that broad, vaguely phrased provisions in this , along with the National Security Law passed this year and the draft Foreign NGO Management law also under consideration, would do more harm than good in addressing the threat of terrorism,” Price told reporters.

“We believe the draft Counterterrorism Law would lead to greater restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion within China.”

[…] Officials in Washington have argued the law, combined with new draft banking and insurance rules and a slew of anti-trust investigations, amount to unfair regulatory pressure targeting foreign companies.

China has said many Western governments, including the United States, have made similar requests for encryption keys, and Chinese companies operating in the United States had been subject to intense security checks. […] [Source]

China’s Foreign Ministry has responded to U.S. concerns about the proposed law, defending it as “rational” and in-line with anti-terrorism legislation in other countries. Xinhua reports:

“In formulating the anti-terrorism law, we referred to the laws of other countries, including the United States,”

“The draft of our anti-terrorism law mandates the obligation of telecommunications operators, Internet servers and service providers to assist public and state security organs in stopping and probing terrorist activities. This is both reasonable and necessary,” said Hong.

Hong says the draft rule won’t limit the lawful operations of companies, and won’t provide a “back door”for law enforcement. Hong also said the measure won’t affect any company’s intellectual property or interfere with Internet users’ freedom of speech.

The spokesman urged the US to respect China’s law-making process and to not adopt “double standards”. The draft anti-terrorism law is expected to get approval as soon as this weekend. [Source]

China recently appointed public security official Liu Yuejin as the nation’s first counter-terrorism chief. The draft anti-terrorism law, along with the proposed Foreign NGO Law and the similarly controversial National Security Law which passed in July, have been described by The New York Times’ Edward Wong as part of a legislative trend to reinforce “ideological security.”