World

BEIJING (Online) – China has passed controversial new anti-terrorism laws, saying they are needed to combat growing threats, state media reported on Monday.

The new laws, passed by China’s legislature, create a new anti-terror agency and security forces with significant powers.

Critics say the laws are too broad and can be used against dissidents and religious minorities.

China has blamed Muslim Uighur separatists from Xinjiang for several public attacks in recent years.

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Last week several Western governments issued warnings for foreigners in Beijing’s Sanlitun neighbourhood citing intelligence of a possible threat there.

Under the new law, China will have a single counter-terrorism body which the country’s public security ministry says “will be in charge of identifying terrorist activities and personnel, and coordinate nationwide anti-terrorist work”.

The official Chinese media cited a knife attack which left 29 people dead at a train station in 2014 as giving greater urgency to the the legislation.

The attack by four assailants was widely attributed to a Uighur group, the mainly-Muslim minority in the western Xinjiang province.

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The Chinese government is keen that the undoubtedly tough measures it takes there are viewed as “counter-terrorism” (similar to measures taken by Western countries) rather than as the oppression of an ethnic minority.

The law will also give the authorities greater rights to monitor private communications. Just like in other countries, the government says this will not infringe liberty.