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Student sues for 'right to know'
Global Times | September 16, 2011 04:35
By Wei Na
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A Tsinghua law student has filed an administrative suit against three government ministries after her requests for information were turned down. 

Li Yan, a second-year graduate student in Tsinghua University Law School, asked for disclosure of  the vice ministers' duties in 14 ministries in May for her thesis research into administrative procedure law.

So far, about half the ministries have replied, or disclosed the information on their official websites, and a couple asked for more time to respond.

But the Ministry of Land and Resources, Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science and Technology failed to give a clear response. Li filed the suit at Beijing No.1 Intermediate People's Court on September 9.

A publicity official from the Ministry of Water Resources, told the Global Times that "the request was completely reasonable."

"It depends if it meets our regulations, and whether the content Li asked for is for personal reasons," the official said.
"I applied to learn what divisions the vice ministers are responsible for, and if any hold dual positions. It's for my research and is my right to know as a citizen," said Li.

"I thought I would get it easily, since it's not sensitive or confidential," she said.

Li said that except for the People's Bank of China, the other ministries were very "suspicious and careful" about her request, setting up "many obstacles."

The Ministry of Science and Technology, after rejecting Li's requests twice in two weeks said, "Li's contact is not real and valid." On her third attempt, the ministry said that "the five vice ministers are under the leadership of the minister, and the duties will be adjusted as the work develops and changes the position."

While the Ministry of Land and Resources said they had put the information on their website, which they had not, the Ministry of Education directly said "no." 
"They said it's not appropriate to disclose the responsibilities of these officials as it's internal information, and actually 'each official's duties could be assumed from listening to their published speeches,'" said Li.

A Sina Weibo post about Li's  case was viewed 2,300 times Thursday. Most were supportive of her, while hoping more will "stand up and protect the right to know."

Chen Jianfeng, a lawyer in administrative procedure law at Beijing Diyang Law Firm, said Li's appeal is fully in accordance with the law and the regulations on open government information, effective from May 1, 2008.

"Except if the information to be disclosed would endanger State security or social stability, all levels of government agencies are obligated to disclose their scope of responsibility," said Chen.

"If an agency violates the provisions of the regulations, administrative penalties shall be imposed," he said.

Chang Ning, publicity official with the court, said the case is still under review to see if they can accept the suit.

"I have confidence I will get a satisfactory reply from the court ruling, and for the ministries, a decent and reasonable explanation is all I'm asking for," Li said.

The Ministry of Education refused to comment Thursday while the ministries of land and resources and science and technology could not be reached for comment.

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Posted in: Metro Beijing

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