China narrows definition of terrorism in draft law by deleting ‘thoughts’ from list of liable offences

Armed Chinese police patrol near the exit of Urumqi's South Railway Station after last May's bomb and knife attack in Xinjiang, which left three people dead. Photo: Reuters
Armed Chinese police patrol near the exit of Urumqi’s South Railway Station after last May’s bomb and knife attack in Xinjiang, which left three people dead. Photo: Reuters

Official says deletion was ‘for the sake of accuracy and applicability’, but the ocument, now undergoing a review, still retains reference to ‘speeches’ that are liable for terrorism offences

China has narrowed the controversial definition of “terrorism” in the revised draft of its counter-terrorism law by removing the reference to “thoughts” from the legal text.

Yet the revised draft has retained the reference to “speeches” that are liable for terrorism offences.

The draft is currently undergoing a second review by the standing committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), which began its regular session yesterday.

Chinese police take part in counter-terrorism training in Hefei, Anhui province. Calls in China for a comprehensive anti-terrorism law have grown following a series of attacks in recent years. Photo: Xinhua

Explaining the draft at the bi-monthly session of the committee, Su Zelin, deputy director of the committee’s Commission for Legislative Affairs,  said “thoughts” had been deleted “for the sake of accuracy and applicability”, Xinhua reported.According to the new draft, terrorism is defined as “any speech or activity that, by means of violence, sabotage or threat, generates social panic, undermines public security, and menaces government organs and international organisations”.

Concerns over human rights were raised in November when the NPC solicited public opinions on controversial drafts of both the counter-terrorism law and the ninth amendment of criminal law. The consultations closed in early December.

Calls for a comprehensive anti-terrorism law have been growing following a series of attacks in recent years.

Liu Renwen, a criminal law expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said at a recent forum in Beijing that including thoughts and speeches in the definition was “inappropriate” and that these “should not be targeted by laws”.

“Terrorism must be strictly defined in law,” Liu added.

“Combating terrorism is necessary, but on the other hand we need to make sure how to safeguard human rights in the context of the crackdown against terrorism. It’s like two sides of a coin, we need to have both.”

Beijing regularly blames three forces – terrorism, separatism and religious extremism – for deadly attacks in Xinjiang, home to the Uygur minority, and other areas in the country, while human rights advocates argue that Beijing’s hardline policies on culture, religion and ethnics provoke the attacks.

The draft also includes provisions about extremism that distort religious teachings, spread religious fanaticism, advocate violence, or are hostile to society and anti-human.

“Extremism should not be included in the law unless it is linked to terrorism,” Liu said. “Otherwise the law should be renamed the anti-terrorism and extremism law.”

Qu Xinjiu, a professor of China University of Political Science and Law, said that to clearly define extremism in law was difficult and there was no generally accepted definition around the world.

The latest revision of the draft counter-terrorism law also proposed enhanced aerospace control in China to guard against potential drone attacks.

“Flight control, civic aviation and public security authorities […] must enhance management of aerospace, aircraft and flight activities, and stay on high alert against terrorist activities against aircraft or those conducted via flight activities,” the draft read.

Xinhua said the revised draft also sought to strike a balance between combating extremism and the protection of human rights.

In particular, security authorities’ access to citizens’ information, via telecom and internet technology, now had to undergo “strict approval procedures”, and information obtained in accordance with the draft law could be used for the purpose of counter-terrorism operations

Approval must also be obtained to inquire into, seal up, seize and freeze suspicious assets linked to terrorist activities.



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