[CHRB] China’s Draft National Security Law: More License To Abuse Human Rights (5/15-21/2015)

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[CHRB] China’s Draft National Security Law: More License To Abuse Human Rights (5/15-21/2015)

China Human Rights Briefing

May 15-21, 2015


Law & Policy Watch

China’s Draft National Security Law Gives More License To Abuse Human Rights

The draft PRC National Security Law, if passed, would legalize the Chinese government’s systematic suppression of political, ethnic, and religious dissent and crack down on civil liberties. The draft includes a broad and ill-defined definition of “national security,” and provisions that would allow prosecution of dissenting views, religious beliefs, information online, and challenges to China’s “cyber sovereignty.” Alarmingly, it includes a list of “obligations” required of citizens and organizations, which if they failed to perform could result in their being held legally accountable.

The draft law is open for public comments until June 5, after undergoing a second reading by the National People’s Congress (NPC) in April. It was first introduced in December and must go through three readings before it can become law. It is likely to be adopted with few significant changes, as the NPC operates as a rubber-stamp legislative body beholden to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Many provisions in the draft law do not conform to international human rights standards, and legitimize infringement on freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and religion. The draft law targets civil society activists, ethnic minorities, religious practitioners, netizens/bloggers, and journalists, among others whose behavior might be perceived by authorities as posing challenges to the CCP’s political power.

CHRD finds the following provisions in the draft law especially troubling:

  • The law’s definition of “national security” is overly broad and gives law-enforcement bodies sweeping powers. Threats to national security, as spelled out in Article 2, include threats to “sustainable economic and social development,” a designation that runs counter to principles set forth by international human rights bodies. For instance, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee in 2011 ruled that it is inappropriate for laws on national security to include commercial, banking, or scientific interests as a way to justify suppression of free expression rights. In addition, the UN special expert on freedom of expression declared in 2013 that the use of broad concepts of national security to justify limitations on human rights is a serious concern.
  • The draft calls for “a firm ideological dominance” and defense “against negative cultural infiltration” (Article 20), language that seemingly legitimizes and further promotes Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aggressive campaign against “Western universal values.” Leaked CCP internal directives (Document No. 9 and Document No. 30) have already exposed the party’s opposition to constitutional democracy, human rights, free press, and rule of law, and underscored the party’s intention to purge “Western thought” from universities. Article 1 of the draft law also conflates “national security” with the CCP’s security and protection of its one-party dictatorship.
  • Article 22 includes provisions for restricting religious or other spiritual practice, such as by “punishing the exploitation of religion to conduct illegal and criminal activities,” “maintaining the normal order of religious activities,” and banning “illegal cult organizations.” These provisions echo those in existing Chinese law related to “endangering national security” that the government has routinely used to prosecute ethnic Tibetans and Uyghurs for peaceful expression of their demands for respect of their basic rights. It is likely the law, as written, could be used to further suppress religious freedoms, and the government could also go after long-targeted Falun Gong practitioners and house church Christians in the name of “national security.”
  • The draft law provides legal means for the government to further criminalize online expression and ratchet up Internet censorship. Article 26 concerns preventing and punishing “dissemination of unlawful and harmful information” and defending “cyberspace sovereignty.” Following the Supreme People’s Court’s 2013 legal interpretation, Internet speech can be charged under the crime of “creating a disturbance” (Criminal Law, Article 293(4)). Authorities widely applied this criminal charge to detain 71 individuals who expressed support—and often online—for the Hong Kong protests last October and November. Without adequate safeguards called for under international law protecting free expression, law-enforcement bodies in China could charge those peacefully expressing their opinions in cyberspace with more serious crimes by prosecuting their speech as threats to “national security.”
  • Citizens and organizations would have “obligations to maintain national security” (Article 74), which, if they “failed to perform,” could lead to their being held legally accountable (Article 81). Based on vague wording, the obligations include “promptly reporting leads on activities endangering national security” (74(2)); providing state security, public security, and military bodies with “relevant data, information or technical support” (74(6)); and not providing “any kind of support or assistance to individuals or organizations endangering national security.” These provisions are broad and ill-defined, and grant police far-reaching powers to detain or arrest individuals whom they deem to “fail to perform” these obligations. This means that under this law, police would be allowed to charge anybody who refuses to become a police informant, or who are seen as associated with those targeted by police, as posing threats to “national security”.
China’s draft National Security Law, which would pose a further threat to human rights if passed, underwent its second reading at the National People’s Congress in April (image: UPI/Stephen Shaver)

China’s draft National Security Law, which would pose a further threat to human rights if passed, underwent its second reading at the National People’s Congress in April (image: UPI/Stephen Shaver)

UN human rights bodies have repeatedly raised concerns that governments use “national security” to restrict free expression and other civil liberties, often by passing laws that include vague, overly broad definitions of “national security.” In a resolution passed in September 2014, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) urged governments to stop targeting civil society actors and organizations by lifting legislation on counter-terrorism, national security, and funding restrictions for civil society development (UN HRC 27/31). The Chinese government has disregarded the HRC resolution by introducing three such laws in the past six months alone; besides the national security law, the first draft of new counter-terrorism legislation was opened for public comments in November 2014, and a law on the management of foreign NGOs underwent its second reading in April and is open for public comments until June 4.

These draft laws come at a time when the government under President Xi has orchestrated some of the most strident crackdowns on China’s civil society since the early 1990s. According to data compiled by CHRD, nearly 1,000 HRDs were arbitrarily detained in 2014, approaching the total from the previous two years combined (see CHRD’s 2014 Annual Report). NGOs and research institutes that had been operating with some limited space—like those working on women’s rights, LGBT rights, health rights, anti-discrimination, and social and economic reform—have been shut down or seen their staff criminally detained or imprisoned. Chinese authorities have already been manipulating the law and the legal system to silence and punish activists, lawyers, journalists, and dissidents. This bleak backdrop gives rise to a fear that the draft National Security Law will hand authorities another tool to deepen political repression.

CHRD calls on the Chinese government to drop the draft national security law or substantially and drastically revise the current draft by clearly defining “national security” and relevant threats such that free expression, association, religion, and assembly can be safeguarded. The law should have a clear distinction between threats to national security and challenges or criticisms to the CCP’s one-party rule. The Chinese government must bring the law into line with international human rights standards and ensure that national security does not serve as justification to suppress human rights.



Renee Xia, International Director (Mandarin, English), +1 240 374 8937, reneexia@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter: @ReneeXiaCHRD

Victor Clemens, Research Coordinator (English), +1 209 643 0539, victorclemens@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter: @VictorClemens

Frances Eve, Researcher (English), +852 6695 4083, franceseve@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter: @FrancesEveCHRD

Follow CHRD on Twitter: @CHRDnet

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