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Asia

China set to pass controversial anti-terrorism law

China's new anti-terrorism laws, likely to be passed the end of this month, would pose further restrictions on media freedom and freedom of speech, analysts have told DW.

China's top legislative body, the National People's Congress (NPC), is currently reviewing the third draft of the law, which was first proposed in October last year. The NPC Standing Committee's current meeting is set to end this Sunday, and according to state media Xinhua, the package of laws is "already quite mature" and is likely to be passed.

New clause addressing individuals

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.

Xinhua reported that the clause was especially revised from the previous draft to restrict the distribution of terrorism-related information by individual users on social media.

"The law raises serious concerns about restriction on freedom of expression, as the definition of terrorism in China is vague and broad," Patrick Poon China researcher of Amnesty International, told DW.

China startet Anti-Terror-Kampagne in Xinjiang

Reporting or discussing restless states like Xinjiang could become more risky once the laws pass

"It would expose NGOs and individuals who talk about terrorism-related issues such as the situation in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region," Poon added, referring to particularly restless state in China with a high proportion of Muslim Uighur inhabitants.

Broad definitions, and implications

Terrorism, as defined by the new draft law, refers to "any proposition or activity - that, by means of violence, sabotage or threat, generates social panic, undermines public security, infringes on personal and property rights, and menaces government organs and international organization - with the aim to realize certain political and ideological purpose." This definition has drawn criticism from analysts and human rights groups.

"Terrorism here is defined in very vague terms," Moritz Rudolf, an expert in China and terrorism at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), told DW. "In accordance with the draft, a single tweet which causes an outcry on social media could be classified as an act of terrorism."

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.

More infringement on freedom of speech

Analyst Rudolf also said the new laws would make it more difficult for media to report on terrorist incidents, as they include a clause stating that only outlets approved by the state's counterterrorism authorities can disseminate information about hostages or any reaction plans from the authorities.

As the use of social media to express one's opinions has been more common in the country, observers fear the laws could be turned against rights activists.

China Internet Sina Weibo auf Handy

At an estimated 668 million, China's online population is the world's largest

"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."

Human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was found guilty of "inciting ethnic hatred" and "picking quarrels and provoking trouble"

early on Tuesday,

for his comments on social media over China's ethnic policies and criticism of officials. He was given a three-year suspended sentence.

"The latest amendment is especially disturbing, given the incredibly harsh penalties that could be handed down under the new law," HRW's Richardson added.

International criticism

The latest draft also included a provision of clauses that require telecommunication and Internet service providers to install special so-called "backdoors" in their software, enabling government access. They are required to provide Beijing with their encryption keys, so that the Chinese government can "prevent" and "investigate" terrorist activities. These clauses, which are applied to both domestic and foreign firms, were already established in its initial draft, and have drawn criticism.

US President Barack Obama said earlier this year, after the new laws' second reading, that he had raised concerns with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and urged Beijing to change the law. Yet no such changes were seen in the latest draft.