China's top-level law enforcement agencies vowed on Tuesday to throw their weight behind the ruling Chinese Communist Party's efforts to maintain social stability and stave off "critical threats" to party rule.
In his annual report to the country's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), Supreme People's Court chief justice Zhou Qiang said the judiciary had worked with other agencies to crack down on "terrorism and crimes seriously endangering national security."
"Together, we have worked to resolutely safeguard national security, in particular, the stability of the regime and [political] system," Zhou told deputies.
Zhou said China, which has been criticized internationally for the mass incarceration of at least one million ethnic Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in "re-education" camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), had also cracked down on "opinions [supportive of] terrorist activities and extremism, punishing those who disseminate them according to law."
He said the judiciary would continue to fight "three tough battles against poverty, pollution, and critical risks."
China's Procurator-General Zhang Jun, the country's top prosecutor, echoed Zhou's theme.
"The most important thing is to shoulder the task of safeguarding the political security of the country, ensuring overall social stability, and always taking political security as a top priority," Zhang told the NPC.
The Supreme People's Procuratorate must also "resolutely crack down on various infiltrations, subversive sabotage activities, violent terrorist activities, ethnic separatist activities, and religious extreme activities," he said.
Wary of revolution
Hong Kong-based political commentator Willy Lam said President Xi Jinping, who began an indefinite term in office at last year's NPC, is very wary of the possibility of a "color revolution" that could trigger a backlash against his administration.
"A color revolution would be very serious, because it would be tantamount to political change; namely, the fall of the Communist Party," Lam said. "That's why they both emphasized the need for political stability and the use of severe punishment to maintain the absolute authority of the Communist Party."
"The Soviet Communist Party fell from power shortly after their 70th year in power, so the Chinese Communist Party is very nervous," he said.
Anhui-based former state prosecutor Shen Liangqing said the growing emphasis on social stability masks growing inequality and social tensions simmering under the surface.
"There are a lot of tensions and a lot of backlash among ordinary people," Shen said. "The international situation is also changing, and now there's a trade war [with the U.S.]."
"We know that neither the Supreme Court nor the Supreme Procuratorate are independent, but rather tools of the regime," he said. "So of course they are going to align themselves with the Communist Party central leadership."
Shen said he thinks the space for dissent in China will continue to narrow, with ever harsher penalties for critics of the regime.
"They are formalizing political persecution, by presenting it as a regular criminal matter," Shen said. "There have been a number of cases in recent years where political dissidents have been charged with incitement to subvert state power, including that of [Wuhan veteran dissident] Qin Yongmin."
"They are handing out harsh sentences for political crimes," he said.
Beijing-based rights lawyer Mo Shaoping agreed.
"As head of the Supreme Court, Zhou Qiang has to support the rule of the party," he said. "Anyone who spoke of judicial independence in the past is now a target of criticism."
"Nobody is talking about the separation of powers any more ... it's all about the judiciary being under the leadership of the party," Mo said.
Reported by Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.