Xinjiang gets tough on terrorism

Terror activities defined more broadly than under national Anti-Terrorism Law

Under new anti-terrorism rules issued in China's restive Xinjiang region, leaders of terror and extremist groups will be kept in solitary cells in a move aimed at curbing the spread of radicalism in prisons.

Convicts who incite others to commit crimes, and those who resist deradicalisation programmes and display violent tendencies could also face solitary confinement.

The new rules, ratified by the autonomous region's lawmakers on Sunday, are the first regional interpretation of the national Anti-Terrorism Law implemented on Jan 1 and which went into effect on Monday. Terror activities are defined more broadly under the regional interpretation than under the national Anti-Terrorism Law.

"China's laws are by nature very broad-based," said Professor Yang Shu, a terrorism expert at Lanzhou University. "Xinjiang is faced with many specific problems on the ground, it cannot be guided by mere principles, it requires detailed steps on how to fight terrorism," he added.

Recruitment, training and instigating others to go abroad to take part in terror activities or training will now be considered acts of terror in the autonomous region in China's far-west.

The Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang has been plagued by terror attacks in recent years. In 2014, more than a hundred people lost their lives in multiple deadly attacks carried out by separatists and religious extremists in Xinjiang's capital city of Urumqi and other counties. The authorities attribute the instability to what they refer to as three main "evil" forces - separatism, extremism and terrorism.

The local legislation includes a section on how to deradicalise and manage terrorists, which is not found in the national law.

Anyone who uses cellphones, the Internet, mobile storage devices or other media to disseminate terrorism or extremist thoughts will also be held accountable for terror-related crimes, the regulation says.

The regulation also states that convicted terrorists must undergo a risk assessment six months before their release. And the local courts will decide, within a month of receiving the reports, if the convicts need to undergo further deradicalisation programmes after serving their sentences.

These moves are believed to have stemmed from incidents seen in Europe and South-east Asia, where radicals influenced fellow prisoners to launch major attacks, like the deadly attacks in Paris last November that took more than 130 lives.

Xinjiang's anti-terror regulation also listed acts that could get the offenders detained for between five and 15 days and fined up to 10,000 yuan (S$2,020) in some cases. This includes interference with religious freedom, forcing underaged persons to participate in religious activities and destroying identification cards, marriage certificates and Chinese currency notes.

Those who expand the concept of "halal" beyond food and drink restrictions and how food is prepared to cover other aspects of daily life could also face similar punishment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2016, with the headline 'Xinjiang gets tough on terrorism'. Print Edition | Subscribe