The proposed new anti-terror law in China would be a targeted assault on freedom of religion and expression, as well as the rights of ethnic minorities, Amnesty International warned.
Despite recent revisions, the draft law has virtually no safeguards to prevent those who peacefully practice their religion or simply criticize government policies from being persecuted on broad charges related to “terrorism” or “extremism”.
The National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s annual parliamentary session which starts on Thursday, is expected to rubber-stamp the latest draft of the law.
“China has a duty to protect people from violent attacks but this draconian law is not the answer. National security is being used as a pretext to further attack religious freedom and silence government critics,” said William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International.
China has a duty to protect people from violent attacks but this draconian law is not the answer. National security is being used as a pretext to further attack religious freedom and silence government critics.William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International
Anyone suspected of “terrorist” activities could also see their freedom of movement severely restricted, and be subjected to so-called “education” measures or other forms of arbitrary detention.
“The revisions aren’t enough, Chinese authorities should rip up this this vaguely-worded draft and start again. There need to be adequate safeguards in place to balance security with individuals’ rights,” said William Nee.
International standards require that human rights, including freedom of expression, are protected in any national security legislation.
“Freedom of expression, including peaceful criticism of the government policies or the government itself, should be explicitly protected in any law,” said William Nee.
Religious freedom in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
Religious freedom comes under specific attack in the draft legislation. Anyone who provides venues for religious worship could potentially be criminalized and branded as “terrorists” or “extremists”, even if the religious practices are completely peaceful.
In the past year the Chinese authorities have tightened their already onerous restrictions on Islam in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), with the stated aim of fighting “violent terrorism and religious extremism”.
The authorities have ratcheted up restrictions on public displays of Islam; long beards have been banned, as have veils, hijabs, and T-shirts with the Islamic crescent moon and star. During the month of Ramadan, authorities banned fasting for some groups.
In May 2014, a “strike hard” campaign was launched in the XUAR, and officials prioritized speedy arrests, quick trials and mass sentencing. The government called for greater “co-operation” between prosecuting authorities and courts, raising additional concerns that accused individuals would not receive fair trials.
State media have reported that after six months of the “strike hard” campaign, by autumn 2014 at least 238 alleged “illegal religious preachers” and people who had provided religious venues had been detained and 171 venues for “illegal religious activities” had been “eliminated”. A total of 23,000 “illegal religious items” were confiscated, including more than 18,000 books and 2,600 CDs and DVDs.
In January, the XUAR Communist Party Committee declared 2015 a “strike hard year”, and announced that the campaign would be extended until the end of the year.
“It is chilling that the government sees the ‘strike hard’ campaign in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region as a blue-print for future anti-terror measures nation-wide,” said William Nee.
In a dangerous precedent, Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur scholar and founder of the website “Uighur Online”, was sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2014 after being convicted of “separatism”, with articles from the website being the main evidence used against him. His case is seen as a model for the “strike hard” campaign. Amnesty International is calling for his immediate and unconditional release as a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his human rights.