China's draft law banning speech and behaviours that 'harm the feelings' of the country sparks backlash
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.
Violations of the law could lead to detainment for up to 15 days
Legal scholars called for removal of some parts of the draft law
Many people expressed concern the amendments could lead to more censorship
The draft 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.
The proposal is the first major reform of China's public security law since it came into effect in 2005.
Violations of the law could lead to detainment for up to 15 days and fines up to 5,000 yuan ($1,068), according to the draft law.
The punishment could also apply to those who "smear and deny heroes and martyrs' spirit and deeds" and those who "glorify invasion wars".
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," Mr Tong added.
Lao Dongyan, Professor of criminal law at Tsinghua University said on Weibo that the draft law may "stimulate the spread of populist or ultra-nationalist sentiments".
The changes may "further worsen the public opinion environment in the public sphere and unduly suppress individuals' freedom of expression in daily dressing and speech", she said.
"At the same time, it may also intensify antagonism with some [foreign] countries and lead to diplomatic passivity," Professor Lao said.
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 China's social media platform Weibo.
Other netizens questioned the vague definition of "harming the nation's feelings".
"Given the abuse of Western powers towards us in history, would wearing suits count as harming the national spirit and the Chinese nation's feelings?" a Weibo user said.
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.
There have been cases of clamping down on clothing that authorities deemed inappropriate in China.
Last year, a Chinese woman wearing Kimono and taking photos on the street was detained by police and accused of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" — a vaguely defined crime often used by Chinese authorities against dissidents.
In 2018, two men were charged with disturbing public order and put into custody for 10 days for wearing Japanese military uniforms.