Authorities in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region unveiled a new local counterterrorism law on Friday meant to counter religious extremism, but rights groups and academics say it is aimed exclusively at suppressing the Uyghur ethnic minority in the restive region.
The law, which was passed late last week, supplements a national counterterrorism law approved in December by setting forth measures to define terrorist activities, implement security precautions, conduct investigations, and punish religious extremists.
The legislative commission of the regional People's Congress said the basis for the law is that religious extremism, as the ideological basis of terrorism, must be prevented and punished, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
“We do not know the details of the regulation yet, but with the announcement that they passed the local application of this antiterrorism law means that along with [displays of] dissent and resentment by the Uyghur people against the government, their normal religious activities can be categorized as extremism and terrorism under this law,” said Ilshat Hesen, president of the Washington-based Uyghur American Association.
“This local law is aimed at suppressing Uyghurs only,” he said.
Detentions and fines
A report by The Straits Times of Singapore on Friday detailed some of the measures included in the law: leaders of extremist groups are to be confined to solitary prison cells, the recruitment of people who undertake terrorist activities or training abroad is now considered an act of terrorism, and those who use cell phones, the internet, or other media devices to spread “terrorist” ideas will be charged with terrorist-related crimes.
The law also lists acts, such as destroying identification cards and Chinese banknotes, for which offenders can be detained for five to 15 days and fined up to 10,000 yuan (U.S. $1,500), the report said.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman of the World Uyghur Congress based in Munich, Germany, said the new law, which he calls a form of propaganda, will increase discrimination by Han Chinese against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
“China has two purposes in conducting propaganda on national and regional antiterrorism,” he said. “First, China is also a victim of terrorism, so it must step up its efforts to crack down on terrorism. Second, [it is] expanding its threats against the Uyghur minority. China’s propaganda will also increase discrimination against Uyghurs by Han Chinese people.”
Xinjiang rights activist Hu Jun said the law will expand police powers to deploy against ordinary Uyghurs.
“The law will be used for expanding police powers with the unlimited use of guns,” he said. “It’s obviously a declaration of war against ordinary people.”
“We can see that authorities have tried to label Uyghurs as enemies. …Because social tensions have been continuously increasing, it has been [passed] to crack down on petitioners and rights defendants as well as lawyers and dissidents. Everyone is their enemy.”
‘Uyghur Suppression Law’
Academics based abroad also said the new law is meant as a further crackdown on Uyghurs.
Ming Xia, a political science professor at the College of Staten Island in New York, said the unveiling of the law by the regional government is an indication that China is going to punish any kind of dissent by Uyghurs by charging them with terrorism.
Fuji Genki, a professor at Tokyo’s Takushoku University who follows events in Xinjiang, said the legislation should be called the “Uyghur Suppression Law” rather than a counterterrorism law.
“The reason is because China is aiming to crush any kinds of incidents that occur in the region [by labeling them] terrorist attacks while linking them to international terrorism,” he said. “[China] can’t create peace through armed conquering.”
Uyghurs in Xinjiang have long been subject to violent police raids on their households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on their culture and language by Chinese authorities who impose heave-handed rule in the region.
China often views Uyghurs as potential terrorists and has vowed to crack down on what it calls the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism in Xinjiang.
Some experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from Uyghur separatists, and that domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012.
The new regional law is believed to be a consequence of other terrorist incidents by Islamic radicals in Europe and Southeast Asia, The Straits Times report said.
Reported by RFA’s Uyghur and Cantonese services. Translated by Mamatjan Juma and Vivian Kwan. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.