China narrows terrorism definition by deleting ‘thought’ from list of crimes

But 'speeches' could still qualify as offence if draft law gets legislature's backing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 February, 2015, 10:24am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 February, 2015, 8:15am

Beijing has narrowed the controversial definition of "terrorism" in the revised draft of its counterterrorism law by removing a reference to "thought" as a crime.

But it still proposes that certain "speeches" qualify as terrorism offences.

The draft is before the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), which began its two-monthly session yesterday.

Su Zelin, deputy director of the committee's legislative affairs commission, said "thoughts" had been dropped "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 called for public feedback on the drafts of both the counterterrorism law and changes to the criminal law.

Liu Renwen, a criminal law expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it was inappropriate to include thoughts and speeches in the definition.

"Terrorism must be strictly defined in law," Liu said. "Combating terrorism is necessary, but we need to make sure to safeguard human rights."

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 ethnic groups provoke the attacks.

The draft also includes provisions about extremism that "distorts religious teachings, spreads religious fanaticism, advocates violence, or is hostile to society". But Liu said extremism should not be included in the law unless it was linked to terrorism.

Qu Xinjiu, from China University of Political Science and Law, said it was difficult to define extremism in law and there was no generally accepted international definition.

The draft law also proposes tighter control of China's airspace to guard against drone attacks.

"Flight control, civil aviation and public security authorities … must improve management of airspace, aircraft and flight activities, and stay on high alert for terrorist activities against aircraft," the draft reads.

If the draft goes through, security agencies will have to follow strict approval procedures to gain access to personal information via telecom and internet technology for use in counterterrorism operations.

Approval would also be needed to investigate, seize and freeze suspicious assets linked to terrorist activities.