China Daily reports that, for the first time, Xinjiang’s regional legislature is considering anti-terrorism laws. The western province, home to the Uyghur minority group, has seen an increase in violent incidents in recent months, especially in the wake of an October attack in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The new legislation, according to regional officials, is a direct response to the growing number of attacks. Currently, all terror-related crimes are dealt with according to criminal law. Rezwan Ayouf, deputy director of the legislative affairs commission of Xinjiang’s Regional People’s Congress Standing Committee, said this was “sometimes inadequate,” and the legislature was looking to provide a specific legal definition for terrorism. This would be a first not just for Xinjiang, but for China itself, which currently has no comprehensive anti-terrorism laws.
Xinjiang’s consideration of anti-terrorism laws come as a prominent Uyghur professor has been officially accused of separatism. Ilham Tohti, an economics professor at the Central University of Nationalities in Beijing, was arrested on January 15. This week, Reuters reported that Tohti’s wife had been notified that her husband was being formally charged with separatism. Separatism is punishable by 10 years to life in prison, although a death sentence remains a remote possibility. Tohti’s lawyer, Li Fangping, told Voice of America that he was being denied access to his client. Li called the charges groundless and has said he does not expect Tohti to receive a fair trial. The World Uyghur Congress issued a statement condemning the charges, calling Tohti’s arrest part of “a well-known pattern that Beijing adopted to suppress independent and critical voices in China.”
The U.S. State Department might agree. This week, State issued its annual human rights reports for nearly 200 countries, including China. In the report on China, the State Department found that Chinese authorities “continued to implement repressive policies in the XUAR [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] and targeted the region’s ethnic Uighur population.” More generally, the report said that “repression and coercion, particularly against organizations and individuals involved in civil and political rights advocacy and public interest issues, ethnic minorities, and law firms that took on sensitive cases, were routine.”
As has also become tradition, China’s government issued its own report on U.S. human rights to counter what it called “irresponsible remarks” about China. This report highlighted U.S. surveillance programs a “a blatant violation of international law” that “seriously infringes human rights.” It also condemned U.S. drone strikes, the conditions in U.S. prisons, the high rate of gun violence, and unemployment. According to a separate Xinhua commentary, China wanted to point out that “the hypercritical Uncle Sam has turned out to be a poor performer in human rights issues.” The commentary also said that China remains committed to improving its human rights, not because of U.S. pressure but “based on its own will.”
In other news, Hong Kong is abuzz over what police described as a “classic triad hit” on the ousted chief editor of the Ming Pao newspaper. Kevin Lau was attacked by knife-wielding assailants on motorcycles, causing critical injuries. Lau and his family are now under police protection, and a HK$1 million reward is being offered for information. When Lau was forced out of his position at Ming Pao last month, it sparked a wave of concern over the future of journalistic independence in the city. Many believe Lau was targeted for this reason, as a warning to him and other journalists.
Finally, as Beijing prepares for the March meeting of the National People’s Congress, Xi Jinping and other government leaders continue to hammer out the agenda for 2014. Xinhua reports that the leading group for overall reform (headed by Xi) met on Friday to decide on “the major tasks and focus of reform in 2014.” Economic reform, as expected, was high on the list, but the group also called for an overhaul in the legal system. Xi set three goals: “strict, standardized, fair and civilized law enforcement”; “an efficient and authoritative socialist judicial system”; and “a scientific and efficient social management system to promote social fairness and justice.”