China's counterterrorism bill 'inspired by US'

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Policemen take part in counter-terrorism training in Shijiazhuang, north China's Hebei province

Policemen take part in counter-terrorism training in Shijiazhuang, north China's Hebei province (AFP Photo/)

Beijing (AFP) - China studied US legislation to draft its controversial counterterrorism law, it said Wednesday, amid concerns in Washington that the bill's provisions may tighten media controls and threaten the intellectual property of foreign tech firms.

The country's first anti-terror law comes as Beijing wages a controversial campaign to stamp out ethnic violence linked to the western Xinjiang region and works to tighten controls over political dissent online and on the ground.

The homeland of the mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority has been plagued by unrest in recent years, provoking China to launch a police crackdown on separatist "terrorists" it says are behind the violence.

In an attempt to control online communications that the government says have contributed to the violence, drafts of the law have included provisions that could require tech firms to install "backdoors" in products or turn over encryption keys to Beijing, potentially threatening both freedom of expression and intellectual property.

The US has expressed repeated concerns about the bill, with US President Barack Obama saying he directly raised the issue with President Xi Jinping during his September trip to Washington.

But the law, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters Wednesday, reflects lessons Beijing learned from watching US legislators hammer out their own legislation, bills which include provisions slammed by rights groups for violating privacy and shirking due process of law.

"While formulating our counter terrorism law, we learned from the legislatures of other countries, including the US," he said, adding that some of the bill's provisions were similar to American telecommunications legislation.

Washington's criticism, Hong said, showed a "double standard" on terrorism, a frequent complaint from China about international reactions to violence by Uighurs, which some analysts say is an inevitable expression of anger towards repressive policies by Beijing.

Addressing concerns about the legislation, Hong said it "will not have any restriction on the lawful activities of enterprises. It will not leave backdoors, and it will not impede freedom of expression online or the intellectual property rights of enterprises".

The bill's latest version will forbid individuals from reporting on "details of terrorist activities that might lead to imitation", the official Xinhua news service said Monday, adding it was "specifically revised to restrict the distribution of terrorism-related information" on social media.

The third draft since the bill's introduction, it also redefines "terrorism" to include activities with political and ideological motives, the report said.

The current draft is "quite mature", it said, adding that the standing committee of the rubberstamp National People's Congress recommended it be put forward for approval.

The comments come a day after Chinese courts handed down a three-year suspended prison sentence to civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang for posts on his social media account that "incited ethnic hatred".