War on terror no reason for retreat on rights

Updated: 2015-02-26 07:43


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BEIJING - Global terrorism should not be a warrant for retreat on citizens' rights, and China's first Counter Terrorism Law sends a welcome signal in this regard.

The new year offers little hope or promise of terrorists giving up their struggles. In January, attacks in the French capital on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly magazine and a kosher supermarket left 17 people dead. Weeks later, two attacks in Copenhagen led to four deaths and injuries to five police officers.

In such circumstances, China's Counter Terrorism Law, though still in the making, could be vital in the global war on terrorism.

Lawmakers gathered in Beijing on Wednesday for a second reading of the draft law, which includes a new, narrower definition of the "terrorism".

The draft comes at a delicate time. It will soon be one year since a deadly attack in Southwest China's Yunnan province. Twenty-nine people were killed and scores injured at a train station in the province's capital, Kunming, on March 1, 2014. The new law proposes a counter terrorism intelligence center to prevent similar attacks in the future.

The draft is about much more than setting up an agency or thwarting plots. It is about improving China's legal system and putting protection of citizen's rights at the center.

Although many revisions to the draft are technical, there are signs of better protection of rights. In particular, access to phone and Internet records now must go through a strict approval procedure and information thereby obtained may only be used for counter terror operations. Similar approval must be obtained to inquire into, seal up, seize or freeze assets.

As China moves toward rule of law, the draft is an encouraging and welcome signal that terrorism can be fought within the framework of the rule of law and in the interests of citizens.

Counter terrorism and the protection of human rights are not conflicting goals. A balance can be struck between combating extremism and upholding rights.