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China's new terrorism legislation will have implications for Tibet

January 11, 2016

International Campaign for Tibet, January 7, 2016 - China has passed its first counter-terror law, rejecting concerns from international governments that draconian measures in the name of national security are being used to crack down on Tibetans, Uyghurs and Chinese civil society and to undermine religious freedom.

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The new law, which will form the blueprint for China’s counter-terrorism strategy, was passed on December 27 (2015) and follows the imposition of oppressive and counter-productive policies in Tibet and Xinjiang, involving extra-judicial killings, torture and imprisonment, and crackdowns on even mild expressions of religious identity and culture. An aggressive ‘counter-terrorism’ drive in Tibet with a strongly political dimension has involved an expansion of militarization across the plateau despite the absence of any violent insurgency in Tibet.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: ”The sweeping measures introduced in the new law are not only about countering terrorism, but about silencing criticism of the CCP and in particular its ethnic policies. No one could argue against the need for China to protect its citizens, but this law provides a rubber stamp to legitimize persecution of peaceful dissent, and it emerges from policies implemented in Tibet and Xinjiang that have been deeply counter-productive. The intensification of militarization accompanied by efforts to crush expressions of Tibetan national identity has led to increasing tensions, not less. Peace and stability cannot be achieved through hyper-securitization and suppression of human rights – nor by a political campaign against a globally-renowned Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the Dalai Lama, whose influence has been critical in ensuring that Tibetans do not turn to violence as an answer to oppression.”

  • In conflating ‘terrorism’ with an undefined ‘extremism’ linked to religion, the Counter-Terrorism Law of the People’s Republic of China gives scope for the penalization of almost any peaceful expression of Tibetan identity, acts of non-violent dissent, or criticism of ethnic or religious policies, in a political climate in which the exiled Dalai Lama has been accused of inciting terrorism through self-immolations, and even terror through his teachings.
  • Terminology in the counter-terror law is both broad and vague at the same time, and introduces further extra-judicial measures, increasing the impunity of the Chinese Party state, and reinforcing the powers of local police and officials to impose restrictive measures and use violence against individuals.
  • While references to the link between terrorism and ‘separatism’ that appeared in the draft law have been dropped, this remains a strong element in the official discourse on counter-terrorism in Tibet. The ‘hyper-securitized’ environment in Tibet and a counter-terror drive since May 2013 has a clear political dimension, involving training of police in Buddhist monasteries, the characterization of religious teachings by the Dalai Lama as incitement to ‘extremist action’ and the implication that Tibetan self-immolations can be characterized as ‘terrorism’. This is despite the fact that self-immolations do not harm others, the lack of terror threats in Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s consistent emphasis on non-violence.
  • The new law broadens the reach of the state into lay society, for instance requiring the strengthening of “counter-terrorism education” in schools. In Tibet, this underlines the focus on political indoctrination in education, entrenching still further the negative impact of anti-Dalai Lama and “anti-separatism” propaganda.
  • There are some notable differences in language following the earlier drafts, indicating efforts to narrow the scope for criticism on sensitive points such as ‘ethnicity’. However blanket references to human rights and the protection of ethnic culture in the law are rendered meaningless given the broad powers assigned to the authorities by the law, the opaque terminology, the absence of independent judicial oversight over restrictive measures that can be applied. This is in the context of the authorities’ emphasis on ‘stability’, political language for the elimination of dissent and enforcement of compliance to Chinese Communist Party policies.
  • European Parliamentarians warned in December (2015) that the human rights implications of a counter-terrorism structure with vast discretionary powers outlined in the law “may lead to further violations of the freedoms of expression, assembly, association and religion, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang as regions with minority populations”.
  • The Chinese authorities demonstrated their intention to eliminate criticism as part of their ‘counter-terror’ strategy by expelling French journalist Ursula Gauthier on December 31 (2015) – four days after the new law was passed – for an article on the government’s crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang and its link to counter-terror policies.
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