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Human Rights Watch urges National People's Congress to scrap state secrets law

(HRW/IFEX) - New York, March 4, 2010 - China's National People's Congress (NPC) should reject a revised draft law on state secrets and abolish the household registration, or hukou system, in order to strengthen human rights protections, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao today. The congress, which meets annually and is attended by more than 3,000 delegates, will begin its 8-10 day session on Friday, March 5.

"The NPC, on occasion, has acted like a legislature should, by rejecting unpopular government proposals," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "So this year's agenda should include radically revising the draft law on state secrets to protect freedom of expression, and setting a timetable for abolishing the discriminatory household registration system."

An NPC vote on the approval of the Law on Guarding State Secrets is likely during the upcoming plenary session. The revised draft law fails to address the dangerously wide and ambiguous criteria for classification of state secrets. Instead, the revisions focus mainly on securing confidential information stored on computers or transmitted via the internet. In its current form, the draft revised law will continue to pose a threat to Chinese citizens, particularly dissidents, civil society activists, and outspoken academics for whom the law has long been a tool of repression and intimidation.

China's hukou system, which links government services to citizens' birthplaces, chronically deprives China's estimated 150 million migrant workers of social welfare protection such as the unemployment, medical, and education benefits that are guaranteed to registered urban residents and is a source of deep resentment in China. The Chinese government has stated repeatedly that it plans to eventually eliminate the hukou system, but has failed to provide any timetable for that abolition. On Monday, March 1, 2010, 13 daily newspapers in China published a joint editorial calling for the government to abolish the hukou system.

"If the National People's Congress has any independence at all and is serious about protecting the rights and freedoms guaranteed by China's own constitution, it should take these essential steps to at the upcoming session," Richardson said.

Click here to read Human Rights Watch's letter to Premier Wen Jiabao

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