Beijing: A new anti-terrorism law under review in China could grant the government license to commit a raft of human rights abuses, a rights group said Tuesday, calling for it to be overhauled.
Human Rights Watch said the law, which was unveiled in November and is expected to be passed early this year, "would legitimate ongoing human rights violations and facilitate future 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.
China has been hit by an increasing number of terror attacks, which Beijing has blamed on violent separatists from the far-western Xinjiang region.
At least 200 people are thought to have died over the past year in a series of clashes and increasingly sophisticated strikes, both in the region 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, and four assailants.
Critics have argued that Beijing employs a too-broad definition of "terrorism" that it often uses to justify its harsh treatment of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority group that calls Xinjiang home.
Last week, state media announced that 10 Turkish citizens and nine Uighurs were arrested in November over a plot to smuggle members of the ethnic minority out of the country.
Beijing has maintained that the plot was terrorism-related, while the Turkish government so far has refrained from making any terror claim.
Human Rights Watch 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 anti-terrorism law, the group said, would grant the ruling Communist Party even greater powers to "define terrorism and terrorist activities so broadly as to easily include peaceful dissent or criticism" of the government`s ethnic and religious policies.
It would allow any effort to defy China`s restrictions on religion to be labelled "terrorist" behaviour and so "set up a total digital surveillance architecture subject to no legal or legislative control," it said.
"Harsh measures that conflate political or religious dissent with crime discourage ordinary people from trusting or cooperating with law enforcement agencies," Richardson said.