Chinese parliamentary sessions 2014

New anti-terror laws must protect human right, say legal experts

Legal experts say hastily conceived legislation to fight extremism could lead to confusion over responsibilities and an erosion of human rights

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 4:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 4:33am

Attempts to introduce anti-terrorism laws could create further problems if they fail to define the powers of various enforcement agencies or strike a balance between battling extremism and protecting civil rights, legal experts say.

National People's Congress (NPC) deputies and delegates to the government's main political advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), have called on the central government to enact anti-terrorism laws during their annual meetings in Beijing.

They have been given extra urgency following the killing of 29 people and wounding of scores more by knife-wielding attackers at Kunming railway station on March 1. Officials blame the attack on separatists from Xinjiang .

The government current anti-terrorism efforts draw on various provisions under its criminal law, but legal experts and politicians say a specific code is needed to deal with the attacks.

"Only with comprehensive legislation can China continue its development without fear of disturbances," said Lee Jai-ying, a Hong Kong delegate to the CPPCC. "Anti-terrorism efforts must be backed with legislation."

The Communist Party chief of Xinjiang, Zhang Chunxian , has vowed to crackdown on terrorism, pledging that the region would work under the direction of the newly established national security commission, headed by President Xi Jinping .

The regional legislature is also developing its own terrorism laws, and hopes to draft bills within a year.

However, a number of legal experts sounded cautionary notes on the rush to legislation.

Liu Renwen, a criminal law expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said any national legislation to combat terrorism had to be careful not to threaten civil rights.

Freedom of speech, for example, could be affected by laws banning the spread of terrorists' views, Liu said.

"We have to be cautious as we don't want civil rights to be severely impacted by the crackdown on terrorism," Liu said.

There had been calls for comprehensive anti-terrorism laws since the September 11 attacks in the United States, but it had been difficult to reach consensus on how to tackle the issue.

NPC deputy Ma Zhenchuan said new anti-terrorism laws would need to clearly define the powers and responsibilities of different law enforcement agencies, such as public security bureaus and the paramilitary police, and also when and how to activate emergency measures, The Beijing News reported.

Chen Jiping, deputy director of the China Law Society and a CPPCC delegate, said there should be less urgency to introduce anti-terrorism laws outside Xinjiang because drafting the legislation was so complicated.

Amendments to legislation introduced in 2001 raised the maximum penalty for organising and leading terrorist attacks from 10 years in prison to life.

The NPC Standing Committee in 2011 tried to clarify what constituted terrorism, defining terrorist activities as those conducted through violence, destruction, intimidation and other means to create social panic, endanger public security, threaten state or international organisations, or cause casualties.

Pan Zhiping, an expert on terrorism at the Xinjiang Social Science Academy, said the authorities may need to further clarify such definitions.

"You need a clear definition of terrorism before you can devise a strategy to combat it," he said.

Additional reporting by Angela Meng