China's new definition of terrorism removes 'thoughts'

China's new definition of terrorism removes 'thoughts'
A Uighur man looks on as a truck carrying paramilitary policemen travel along a street during an anti-terrorism oath-taking rally in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region May 23, 2014.

BEIJING - Thoughts will not be subject to prosecution under China's new definition of terrorism, state-run media said Thursday.

A panel of China's rubber-stamp legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), removed the word from a draft of the country's first-ever anti-terrorism law, the Beijing News reported.

The parliament opens its annual meeting in Beijing next week, with terrorism among the top agenda items following a series of deadly attacks that Communist authorities have blamed on separatists from the far-western Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

Next week marks the one-year anniversary of the killing of 31 people in a knife rampage at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming, dubbed "China's 9/11" by state media.

According to the Beijing News, an initial draft of the anti-terror law defined terrorism as "any thoughts, speech or activity that - through violence, sabotage or intimidation - aims to cause social panic, impact national decision-making, sow ethnic hatred, overthrow the state or split the country".

A revised version by the NPC's Law Committee omits the word "thoughts", it said.

Under the new definition, terrorism will be defined as "any advocacy or activity that - through violence, sabotage or intimidation - causes social panic, threatens public security or seeks to coerce state organs or international organisations."

At least 200 people are thought to have died in China over the past year in a series of clashes and increasingly sophisticated strikes, both in Xinjiang and outside it.

Information in the area is tightly controlled and difficult to independently verify.

Beijing has responded by launching a harsh crackdown in the region, with hundreds of people jailed or detained on terror-related offences following a deadly May attack on a market that killed 39 people.

Last month, Human Rights Watch denounced the draft anti-terror law and called for its overhaul, arguing that the measure could grant the Chinese government licence to commit a raft of human rights abuses.

"While terrorism poses grave threats to society, overbroad and abusive counterterrorism measures can also inflict grave harm and exacerbate conflict," the US-based group's China director Sophie Richardson said in a statement.

The group gave the example of Uighur academic Ilham Tohti, who in September was sentenced to life in prison for "separatism" in a case rights groups say is part of a plan to silence government critics in the region.

The new law, the group said, would grant the Communist Party even greater powers to "define terrorism and terrorist activities so broadly as to easily include peaceful dissent or criticism" of government policies.

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