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Fears over new rules on ID and ‘terrorism’Ng Tze-wei30 October 2011Mainland rights advocates are alarmed by the passage yesterday of new national rules that expand police powers of detention and define what constitutes terrorism.The National People’s Congress Standing Committee endorsed amendments to the Resident Identity Card Law that effectively allow police to detain citizens in busy public areas if they are not carrying their ID cards.It also approved a counter-terrorism resolution that defines “causing harm to public safety” as one purpose of an act of terror.Rights advocates fear the terror definition could be open to abuse.They claim the existing criminal charge of “causing harm to public security” is used to target “social undesirables” such as petitioners.Li Shouwei, of the Standing Committee’s Legal Affairs Commission, said there was no set international definition of what constituted an act of terror, but China’s definition was consistent with international conventions and practice.Nicholas Bequelin, of Human Rights Watch, said the definition was worrying because “it included a category that is notoriously vague under Chinese law, and which has been used to punish non-violent acts”.Bequelin said the definition of the means to carry out an act of terror as “violence, sabotage, threat etc” further added uncertainty to what could be labelled as terrorism on the mainland in future. Beijing lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said the new terror definition could result in the authorities treating more activities it deemed undesirable as terrorism.“This is very possible. It’s like how some activities to push for rights are being treated as triad activities.“Such categorising makes it easier for the authorities to crack down,” Liu said.There were also concerns about the potential for abuse of expanded police powers to check identity cards.The Resident Identity Card Law amendments allow police to check ID cards at “train stations, long distance bus stations, ports, piers, airports or areas designated by city governments during major events”. Previously, police could demand to see the cards only if the person was suspected of a crime, if there was a need to restrict movement in an area, or in cases of serious public disorder.While public discussion focused on the collection of fingerprints for ID cards issued or renewed from next year, rights lawyers fear the new changes could mean almost any undesirable activity may justify declaring an area subject to an ID check.Beijing lawyer Li Fangping said: “There is no clear definition of what a major event is.“Authorities could define this as any activity related to the need to maintain stability, such as a petition.” Legal Affairs Commission deputy Zang Tiewei hinted that citizens should carry ID cards with them when they left their homes, even though it was not required by law.He added: “If they can’t prove their identity, or refuse to allow a check on their ID card ... police could, according to the law, carry out further measures.”Police could detain people for questioning for 24 hours, or even 48 hours, if officers suspected them of a criminal act and if the suspects did not have identification - such as a driving licence or passport - or someone to vouch for them on the spot, Zang explained.
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