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China okays anti-terrorism law, permits troops deployment abroad

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Beijing: China on Sunday adopted its first counter-terrorism law that grants overarching powers to security agencies, allows the military to venture overseas on counter-terror operations and requires technology firms to give sensitive data like encryption keys to the government.

Much on the expected lines, 159 legislators of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee unanimously adopted the draft law earlier approved by the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC). The new law makes it legal for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to participate in counter terror missions overseas.

The PLA and the country’s armed police forces may carry out such operations with the approval from the Central Military Commission, the new law says.

Public security and national security authorities may also send personnel overseas for counter-terrorism missions, with the approval from the government and agreements from countries concerned, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

“The new law comes at a delicate time for China and for the world at large – terror attacks in Paris, the bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt, and killings of hostages committed by Islamic State (IS) extremist group are alerting the world about an ever-growing threat of terrorism,” it said.

The law grants overarching powers to security agencies.

Earlier, China has appointed a top cop as its first new anti-terrorism czar to enhance coordination among all the security agencies specially in the volatile Xinjiang province where the security forces are battling militants of the al-Qaeda-backed East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

China said several ETIM militants from Xinjiang crossed over to Syria to fight along with IS and some of them returned home to carry out attacks in the country. Xinjiang is on the boil due to unrest among its majority Uyghur Muslim population over the increasing settlements of members of Han community from other provinces of China. The anti-terrorism law is also applicable to other provinces including Tibet which in the past witnessed over 120 self-immolations against tightening of security controls. China’s draft law evoked sharp criticism from US which expressed “serious concerns” saying that such a law which would do more harm than good against the threat of terrorism.

“We believe the draft Counterterrorism Law would lead to greater restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion within China,” State Department spokeswoman Gabrielle Price had said.

The draft law has attracted Western concern as it could require technology firms to hand over sensitive information such as encryption keys to the government.