WASHINGTON - Human rights groups are criticizing China's sweeping new national security law, saying it will further enshrine and expand the country's suppression of political dissent.
China's largely ceremonial National People's Congress passed the bill Wednesday with 144 yes votes and one abstention, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The law allows authorities to "take all necessary" measures to safeguard territorial sovereignty and ensure full control over the country's already tightly censored Internet. The bill is Beijing's response to a national security situation that has become "increasingly severe," according to Zheng Shu'na with the NPC Standing Committee.
"We will continue to follow the path of peaceful development but we absolutely will not give up our legitimate rights and absolutely will not sacrifice the country's core interests," said Zheng at a news conference.
T. Kumar, Director of International Advocacy at Amnesty International USA, said this is basically an attempt by the Chinese government to strengthen its hold on power and to protect it from challenges by the civilian population.
He said the new law “would encourage the police and the government to do what they want to do.” “Human rights situation will deteriorate, even now it's bad, but it will be worse under this law," he added.
Brad Adams, executive director of the Asian division at Human Rights Watch, said the new law is part of several measures, “counter-terror laws, law limiting the activities of NGOs, and series of crackdowns on people in China for engaging in peaceful activities.”
He said that means “China has become a more and more oppressed country even while it claims it's becoming more democratic.”
“It is going to lead, I think, to a backlash in Chinese society that the Communist Party may or may not be able to control," he added.
The new law included measures to make all key network infrastructure and Information systems "secure and controllable."
Adams said these measures could effectively silence dissidents and restrict NGOs in China. He said the law is an extension of President Xi Jinping's attempt to control all aspects of Chinese society.
"This new law will just make it easier to provide a broader rational or reason to close organizations down or use criminal law against individuals," Adams said.
Kumar agrees. “NGOs and others who challenge the government or raise concerns can be easily charged under these laws, and [the government can] imprison them or fine them or what[ever] they want to do to silence these people,” he said.
Adams urged the Chinese government to be "be extremely careful" with the law. "If they are not giving people a chance to engage in peaceful commentary, then many people will probably resort to other kinds of opposition, which is not healthy to the country."
At a news conference Wednesday, Zheng defended the bill, saying "any government will stand firm and not leave any room for disputes, compromises and interferences when it comes to protecting its core interests." Since coming to power in 2012, Chinese President Xi has made national security a top concern. Last year, he chaired the first meeting of China's national security commission. Among the country's major security challenges are its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas and rising unrest related to the Xinjiang region. China says it is also a top target of cyber attacks.