BEIJING - After it was recently revealed that the entire family of a top housing administration official in the northern Chinese city of Zhengzhou had two sets of identity papers (or hukou), people have taken to joking online that China doesn't really have 1.3 billion people, as many people have a "dual hukou."
The hukou household registration system, like a social security number or a passport, is a unique piece of ID. It gives access to healthcare, welfare, education, employment and the right to own houses and cars, or even the right to have more than one child. Without a Beijing hukou, for instance, you cannot enroll your children into Beijing schools.
Chinese Internet users were further shocked to find out that a "dual hukou" was nothing special when a woman named Gong Aiai in Shaanxi was revealed to have four hukou. One of the four official identities she possessed was a much sought after Beijing hukou.
Investigators discovered that under her various identities, this former deputy head of a rural bank, owned two properties in Shenmu, two in Xi’an and three in Beijing. â€¨Having multiple hukou is a much bigger deal than owning multiple properties: If someone is found to own many houses, they can defend themselves by claiming that the properties were bought using legal income. But there's nothing they can say when they've been caught with multiple hukou. According to China’s household registration rules, a citizen can only be registered as a permanent resident in a single location. It's impossible for Gong to have obtained her four hukou legally.â€¨ But although this might seem quite "extraordinary," it turns out it's quite a common occurrence in China.
Other cases that have been revealed recently include that of Tao Yong, the former head of a public security bureau in a county in Anhui province who obtained a fake ID card in order to accept kickbacks and hide his ill-gotten gains. Chen Wenzhu, the former head of a local office of China Tobacco in Guangdong, used a fake ID to travel to and from Macao on gambling trips for six years. And there are many more officials holding "dual hukou" that have not yet been caught.
The first question is how did these officials manage to get multiple hukou? China’s household registration system has always been very strict. It is totally impossible for an ordinary citizen to get more than one ID card, and even 500,000 yuan ($80,000) don’t guarantee that you can get a Beijing hukou on the black market.
Claims that all the “dual hukou” of these officials are caused by data entry errors aren't fooling anyone. Additional IDs can only be obtained with the help of corrupt people working inside the public security organs. As the head of a local public security bureau, it was very easy for Tao Yong to cheat the system.
Revoking the illegal hukou isn’t enough
Why would people working in our public security agencies be willing to help out the Gong Aiais of this world? â€¨To put it simply, they either fear power or are tempted by what they can get. If it's fear of power, it means that people with authority are interfering with the management of the household registration system. If they are motivated by personal gain, it means that powerful people are corrupting the household registration administration.
In this sense, when dealing with the Zhengzhou and Shenmu hukou scandals, revoking the illegal IDs simply isn’t enough. Neither is investigating the individual employees of the public security bureau who were involved in the scandals. We need instead to launch an official investigation into all the “dual hukou” holders across the country. At the same time, we need to think about why the carefully designed household registration system is so susceptible to corruption. Can this system be effectively implemented and effectively supervised?
Another question is, why are officials are so fond of hukou? There are two reasons. The first and most important is that they can use a fake identity to evade the long arm of China's anti-corruption departments. It is like a cat-and-mouse game. If the Central Commission Discipline Inspection wants officials to declare their assets or if the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development wants to establish a property database, corrupt officials can simply get a second hukou to avoid being detected.
The other reason is that there are still many benefits attached to having a certain hukou. The government still uses household registration to allocate scarce resources and bestow special rights and interests.
Having more than one hukou implies that:
-An individual can bypass restrictions placed on property purchases, including having access to preferential interest rates when buying a second house;
-An individual can have access to affordable housing;
-If it's the much sought-after permit indicating that you're a permanent resident of Beijing or Shanghai, it also means that your children will find it easier to get into a good university.
For all these reasons, a household registration is more likely to be abused by greedy officials and a breeding ground for corruption. We must have the courage to get rid of all these special privileges.â€¨We should return to the situation where a household registration is simply used as a proof of a citizen's identity and as a useful tool in the collection of population statistics.
Translated by Zhu Na.
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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