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.