A revised draft of China's policing law could give officers the power to use firearms against peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday as it called for the country to bring the legislation in line with UN standards.
The draft -- a revision to a law first adopted in 1995 and revised once before in 2012 -- was issued by the public security bureau on December 1 for public commentary before the end of the year.
It seeks to give police more concrete guidelines on the use of weapons, according to Chinese media reports.
But three out of the five situations in which it stipulates police may use firearms "after warnings are ineffective" did not conform to basic UN principles, Human Rights Watch said in comments on the draft submitted Thursday to Chinese authorities.
The legal text states that police may use weapons on those who "resist arrest or flee while or after perpetrating acts that seriously endanger national security or public safety". according a draft posted on the public security bureau's official web site.
But as the terms "national security" and "public safety" are broadly interpreted within Chinese law, the wording gives police the right to train firearms on individuals in situations far beyond what is permissible under international law, HRW China researcher Maya Wang told AFP.
"The Chinese government frequently conflates peaceful criticism of the government with threats to national security, so this could potentially mean that the police could use firearms against people who peacefully criticise the government," she said.
Additionally, the new draft gave county-level police the ability to "implement internet controls" with the permission of the provincial-level public security organs "when necessary".
Though it provided no further details about the nature of the controls, it listed times of "natural disasters, accidents, public health incidents, public security incidents, or imminent risk of the occurrence of these disasters", among others, as situations where the clause would be applicable.
Chinese police already have the power to monitor and censor online content, but the new provision could give them the ability to impose "network suspension" -- the cutting of internet access to entire regions -- Human Rights Watch said.
The tactic was employed by authorities in 2009 in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang, where internet access was cut for 10 months after violent riots.
"The draft revisions to the Police Law do little to make the police more accountable, and actually expand the force’s powers in ways that could exacerbate abuses," HRW China director Sophie Richardson said in a statement.