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Badly Written Laws Mean Local Officials Make Policy

2 min read

The full text of the amendment reads: “Where methods such as violence or coercion are used to compel others to wear or adorn themselves with apparel or emblems promoting terrorism or extremism, it is punished by up to three years imprisonment, short-term detention or controlled release, and a concurrent fine.”

This highlights a much bigger problem in the Chinese government, namely that so many laws are drafted in extremely vague language ("extremist" and "coercion" here; another example is the "picking quarrels" criminal law amendment) due to pressures of time, resources, and consensus building, as well as a tendency to dismiss concerns about creative abuse. The result is that local officials and police are put in the position of determining actual, on-the-ground policy by choosing their own definitions for vague terminology. In this case, the law says nothing about burqas but certainly allows officials to label virtually any clothing as "extremist" and a wide variety of personal interactions as "coercion" and in doing so deploy violence and/or coercion under cover of "law."

To see how ludicrous the situation can get, look at Professor Chen Zhonglin arguing that the "picking quarrels" law not only is a catch-all that allows law enforcement to label activities as crimes where no specific law applies, but that this is needed in order to prevent police hands from being tied by existing criminal law that very clearly says they cannot make up new crimes on their own: