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Letter to Premier Wen Jiabao Ahead of the NPC Annual Plenary Session

March 5, 2010

Human Rights Watch (HRW)
March 4, 2010

Dear Premier Wen,

We are writing on the occasion of the annual plenary session of the
National People's Congress (NPC), at which you will be presenting
your government work report.

With the end of your tenure as premier just two years away, the 2010
NPC plenary session is a litmus test of your repeated pledges to
building rule of law and promoting social justice in China. This year
we call on you to reform two legal mechanisms which seriously
undermine both of those commitments-the Law on Guarding State Secrets
and the household registration, or hukou, system.

We are sure you will agree that true rule of law hinges on
transparency and predictability. In a May 4, 2009 speech to students
at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing you
emphasized your support for rule of law by stating that, "...the law
is more important than heaven." However, the draft revisions of the
Law on Guarding State Secrets, which the NPC may seek to pass during
this plenary session, fails to meet either of those essential pre-conditions.

There were high expectations both within China and abroad that the
revised draft secrets law, released for public comment in June 2009,
would eliminate the original law's dangerously wide and ambiguous
criteria for classification of state secrets. Unfortunately, the
revisions not only leave intact these criteria, but also extend the
scope of the law to confidential information stored on computers or
transmitted via the Internet.

That means that officials on multiple levels of government retain the
power to arbitrarily classify information as state secrets under
extremely expansive categories, including information related to
"economic and social development." More worryingly, the revised draft
law maintains an "other matters" category, which in effect allows
unlimited latitude in the determination of what constitutes a state secret.

We also note that the revised draft state secrets law allows
government officials to retroactively declare information as "secret"
even after it has been in the public domain, and that the revised
draft law still provides no mechanism for legally challenging the
determination of what constitutes a state secret. The revised draft
state secrets law will continue to pose a serious threat to Chinese
citizens seeking to exercise their right of free expression,
particularly dissidents, civil society activists, and outspoken
academics, for whom the law has long been a tool of repression and
intimidation. Recent victims of China's state secrets law include
veteran dissident Huang Qi, sentenced to a three-year prison term in
November due to his investigation of allegations that shoddy
construction contributed to the collapse of schools in the massive
May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

We urge your government to make it a priority to re-examine the
revised state secrets law and submit it to further revisions in order
to restrict the scope of state secrets to matters of genuine national
security. By doing so, you will help ensure that China's state
secrets law fully complies with international standards on freedom of
expression, which includes the right to freely receive and impart
information. The classification of a particular matter should be
challengeable through administrative and judicial procedures.

Your avowed commitment to social justice will be evidenced not by
more vague government rhetoric but by setting a firm date for the
abolition of the household registration, or hukou, system. The hukou
system, which determines where citizens can live and whether they can
have access to the most basic human services, is a discriminatory
barrier for China's estimated 150 million migrant workers. The hukou
system, which links government services to citizens' birthplaces,
chronically deprives migrant workers from the countryside social
welfare protection such as the unemployment, medical, and education
benefits that are guaranteed to registered urban residents.

Your government announced in November 2007 that it planned to
"[g]radually commit to giving migrant workers in 'stable' employment
the opportunity for permanent residency status." In January 2008, Ma
Liqiang, the deputy secretary general of the National Development and
Reform Commission, indicated that the government would eliminate the
restrictions of the hukou system, but provided no roadmap to that
goal. Although the Shanghai municipal government unveiled a plan in
June 2009 to extend permanent residency status to migrants who meet
rigorous educational, family planning, and tax payment history
criteria, the plan will only apply to a small fraction of Shanghai's
estimated total of six million migrants.

Demand from within China to abolish the hukou system is growing. On
March 1, 2010, thirteen Chinese daily newspapers issued an editorial
calling for the government to abolish the hukou system. "We hope that
hundreds of millions of people in both north and south, regardless of
whether they're from urban and rural areas all have the same
employment, medical care, old-age pension, education, freedom of
movement rights," the editorial read.

Failure to make significant progress in both these areas at the
upcoming NPC will again call into question your government's
commitment to reform. We urge that you not close the session without
legislative and policy reforms-accompanied by concrete action-on
hukou abolition and meaningful revision of the Law on Guarding State Secrets.

Sincerely,

Brad
Adams
Executive Director
Asia division
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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