Harsh new Chinese criminal laws

China announced plans on 6 March to introduce harsh new provisions to its Criminal Law targeted at “terrorist” control in Tibet and Xinjiang.

Stressing the need “to deal telling blows at such offences”, the vice chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC), Mr. Wang Hanbin, announced draft provisions that would add up to 10 years in prison to any sentence for homicide, explosion or kidnapping carried out as a terrorist act.

Of particular relevance to independence activists in Tibet and Xinjiang is the legal amendment whereby “offenders taking advantage of national or religious problems to instigate the splitting of the State or undermine the unity of the State” will be charged under severe provisions for “endangering State Security”. Previously such activities were labelled as “counter-revolutionary” offences, a charge which carried heavy sentences and has been used extensively against Tibetans demonstrating any form of support for independence or for the Dalai Lama.

The amendments, due to be passed mid-March at the closing session of the NPC, are part of a number of proposed changes to the Chinese Criminal Law purporting to strengthen the rights of the accused. However, the new reworded provisions are reportedly even wider than the originals and will still enable convictions for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Instead of 15 charges of counter-revolution, some 11 charges of endangering state security will be used, with additional clauses of “undermining national unification” and of accepting funds from foreign organisations. A further addition is the charge of “inciting ethnic hatred” which will carry a three-year prison sentence.

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