Update: Secrecy bill passes Japan’s lower house

11/26/2013
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UPDATE
Despite popular opposition, with thousands of Japanese taking to the streets, the bill was passed in the lower house as expected on November 26. It is expected to clear the upper house before December 6 and then become law. Some observers see parallels to a similar law enacted in 1925, at the start of Japan’s military totalitarian regime, which lasted until the end of the Second World War in 1945.

“You elected us, but you’re not allowed to know what we’re doing.”

TOKYO (majirox news) — The administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently concluded committee discussions on a bill to protect government information designated as secret, with the aim of enhancing national security.

Public servants could face up to 10 years in prison for leaking “designated” secrets, and journalists could face sentences of up to five years. The problem is who designates the secrets, and what is designated as secret.

The proposed law puts the Prime Minister in charge of the classification process, which will be initiated by secretive individual ministries and agencies. Oversight in the form of “opinions” will be provided by a “panel of experts.” We can assume this will be a group of high-level bureaucrats similar to those responsible for the suppression of data regarding the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In theory, anything can be classified as “secret” – decisions taken regarding nuclear energy, those taken regarding trade agreements such as the secretive TPP, or even in an extreme case, the cost of redecorating a senior civil servant’s office. If this legislation had been in force at the time of the Fukushima disaster, journalists’ reports on the true state of affairs could have been regarded as imprisonable offences.

According to some, as reported in the Asahi Shimbun of October 6 this year, the bill may have been partly forced on the Japanese by the US, which has long been cautious about sharing intelligence with Japanese counterparts, and has public supporters, significantly from those to the right of center, including the Yomiuri newspaper. But such support comes with reservations, questioning the feasibility of the Prime Minister’s role, and the part played by the “experts.”

The legislation, to be voted on in the lower house today (26 November 2013), has drawn thousands of Japanese onto the Tokyo streets. Widespread public opposition to proposed policy is rare, as is a condemnation of the government’s proposal by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, which in a November 11 statement asserts that “the current text of the bill seems to suggest that freedom of the press is no longer a constitutional right, but merely something for which government officials ‘must show sufficient consideration.’” Full text at http://www.fccj.or.jp/images/FCCJ-State-Secrets-Protest-eng.pdf

Though Abe claims that sufficient public debate has been held, only 15 days were allowed for the collection of public comments, and the bill has been discussed only in committee, not in open parliamentary session. Many have condemned forcing through a widely unpopular piece of legislation as “fascist” and see links to Abe’s expressed desire to abolish human rights (in the Western sense). Even if such an intention is not present, the vagueness of the bill’s language and the terms, including a section regarding undefined “harmful activities,” make it susceptible to massive abuse by the authorities.

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