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    Reporters Without Borders said in it’s 2005 special report titled “Xinhua: the world’s biggest propaganda agency”, that “Xinhua remains the voice of the sole party”, “particularly during the SARS epidemic, Xinhua has for last few months been putting out news reports embarrassing to the government, but they are designed to fool the international community, since they are not published in Chinese.”
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China’s State Secret Law ‘deadly to society’

Posted by Author on June 12, 2007

By Clifford Coonan in Beijing, The Independent, UK, 12 June 2007-

China is classifying more and more activities as state secrets to allow police to charge dissidents and activists, a report said yesterday. The expansion of secrecy laws has huge implications for freedom of expression in the country, says the campaigning group Human Rights in China (HRIC).

“The complex and opaque state secrets system perpetuates a culture of secrecy that is deadly to Chinese society,” says the report, which details laws, regulations and documents – many in English translation for the first time – to show how many charges now qualify as state secrets.

Speaking from New York before the launch of the 279-page document, State secrets: China’s legal labyrinth, Sharon Hom, executive director of HRIC, said the report would “tunnel down and look at the state secret system and see what is its impact on policy and the practice of the rule of law and governance”.

Under a 1998 law, state secrets are defined as “all other matters classified as state secrets by the national State Secrets Bureau”, a catch-all phrase which can be used against almost anyone the government pleases. The report shows how China’s secrets system is used as both a shield – classifying a broad range of information and keeping it from the public, and a sword – using it as a means to crack down on individuals who are critical of the government.

It also has case studies of people who have been jailed under the pretext of stealing state secrets. Some are well known, such as Zhao Yan, the New York Times researcher who was detained in September 2004 in connection with an article which predicted the resignation of Jiang Zemin as head of the military. He was held in detention for more than 19 months without trial and then charged with leaking state secrets to the newspaper. In August last year, Mr Zhao was unexpectedly cleared of the state secrets charge and sentenced to three years in prison on an unrelated charge of fraud.

The reporter Shi Tao attended a meeting in April 2004 at which the contents of a Communist Party propaganda bureau document were read out. Using email, he sent notes to a New York-based website, for which he was detained and tried for “illegally providing state secrets overseas”. As the document was certified “top secret”, he was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.

There are also lesser known cases, such as Tan Kai, a computer repair technician from Zhejiang, who was formally indicted on 29 April 2006 on charges of “illegally obtaining state secrets,” ostensibly for information he had obtained while doing routine file back-ups for an employee of the Zhejiang provincial party committee. Mr Tan is also an environmental activist who founded a group called Green Watch, which was declared illegal in November 2005. Mr Tan was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment by the Hangzhou municipal people’s intermediate court on the state secrets charge.

“In these cases, the state secrets charge opened the door,” said Ms Hom. “The scope and comprehensiveness and retroactivity of this system is not really known. Environment issues, natural disasters, population statistics, health hazards – all of these can be swept in and retrospectively classified as state secrets.”

China’s secrets system violates the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Beijing has signed but not ratified, said Ms Hom. She added: “China says it wants to be a respected international player. There is a need to move from a culture of secrecy to a culture of tolerance, which means they have to allow dissenting voices.”

How the wall of silence works

* Officials dealing with the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) at first refused to provide information or confirm reports, pointing to rules classifying infectious diseases as state secrets.

* Ambiguities in secrecy rules led to delays and confusion after a chemical leak in the Songhua river in 2005 which forced taps to be shut off in a city of nine million people.

* Lu Jianhua, a sociologist, was reportedly jailed for 20 years for leaking state secrets to a Hong Kong reporter who was sentenced to five years for spying. The trial was held in secret.

* Tohti Tunyaz, an academic, was sentenced to 11 years for spying. Supporters say the secrets he was accused of stealing were 50-year-old documents.

* Shi Tao, a journalist, was jailed for 10 years after emailing a propaganda circular to a US human rights forum.

– original report from The Independent: China’s culture of secrecy ‘deadly to society’

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