Backlash in China against draft law banning items that harm 'national spirit'

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO:A surveillance camera is silhouetted behind a Chinese national flag in Beijing

By Martin Quin Pollard

BEIJING (Reuters) - Proposed changes to a Chinese public security law to criminalise comments, clothing or symbols that "undermine the spirit" or "harm the feelings" of the country have triggered the concern of legal experts, who say the amendments could be used arbitrarily.

The changes were first made public last week as part of a mandatory "soliciting opinion" process, as concerns mount about the increasingly authoritarian and nationalistic rule of President Xi Jinping.

This week, several legal scholars and bloggers wrote editorials and social media posts calling for the removal of certain articles in the draft.

The scholars and commentators also encouraged citizens to give their feedback on the draft, and so far around 39,000 people have done so via the website of China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC).

"Who confirms the 'spirit of the Chinese nation' and according to what procedure? Who recognises the 'feelings of the Chinese nation' and according to what procedures?" wrote Tong Zhiwei, a constitutional studies scholar at the East China University of Political Science and Law, on his Weibo social media account.

"If the NPC Standing Committee adopts this article as it is now drafted, law enforcement and judicial work will inevitably lead to the practical consequences of arresting and convicting people according to the will of the chief, and there will be endless harm," Tong added.

Parliament's Standing Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Many people took to Chinese social media to express their worries that the amendments could lead to more censorship.

"Today they can prevent you from wearing certain clothes, tomorrow they can prevent you from speaking, then the day after they can prevent you from thinking," wrote one user on Weibo.

The 2005 "Public Security Administration Punishment Law", which mainly covers minor offences, is being revised to make it more applicable to current social realities, the Global Times newspaper said, without giving details.

(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard; editing by Miral Fahmy)