Human rights fears as Peking plays double game over dissent

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The Independent Online
China's much vaunted reforms of its internal security laws, leading to the abolition of the crime of "subversion", are described as a means of deepening state suppression of dissent in a report issued yesterday by two human rights groups.

"Far from being a move towards judicial liberalisation, the change has served to broaden the capacity of the state to suppress dissent", says the report on China's new criminal code published by the United States- based Human Rights in China and Human Rights Watch/Asia.

Sidney Jones, the executive director of Human Rights Watch/Asia, said: "For several years now, Chinese officials have been deliberately fuelling hopes by Western leaders that the long-awaited removal of "counter-revolution" from the books would mean an end to China's institutionalised persecution of peaceful dissidents, religious activists and supporters of non-violent nationalist movements." The director maintains that the reality is that "nothing has changed".

According to the report, the Chinese government has given itself new powers to act against dissidents having any connections with the outside world, putting their activities on a par with espionage.

The new laws also specifically target what China describes as "splitism" or the undermining of national unity by advocating rights for China's minorities and regions.

The recent violent stirrings of Muslim discontent in China's Xinjiang region underline the Peking government's desire to keep separatist movements under control.

The report also states that China has broadened the scope of "what can be considered subversive, seditious or secessionist expression".

The message is particularly chilling for Hong Kong, which returns to Chinese sovereignty in just two months. The incoming administration is in the midst of a so-called consultation process aimed at revising human rights and public laws which China says contradict the Basic Law or mini- constitution for the new Hong Kong.

Central to China's argument, and highlighted in this report, is the notion that the interests of "national security" can be employed as a means of limiting rights of expression and dissent.

China insists Hong Kong will be allowed to retain its own legal system but is specifically retaining jurisdiction over "national interests".