Diet Approves Secrecy Bill After Slight Changes

27 November 2013

Japan’s Diet Nov. 26 approved an internationally and domestically criticized “secrecy protection” law which imposes stiffer penalties on officials who leak information – and journalists who seek it.

Premier Shinzo Abe said it was “urgent” to pass the law, which he said will allow Japan to receive national security information from the United States and other allies.

The bill now goes to the upper house, which is also controlled by the ruling bloc, and is expected to gain easy approval. Final passage by year’s end is expected.

Thousands of demonstrators protested the bill outside the Parliament building. “My biggest concern is that it would be more difficult for the people to see the government’s decision-making process,” said Kyouji Yanagisawa, a former top defense official who was in charge of national security at the Prime Minister’s Office from 2004 to 2009. “”That means we can’t check how or where the government made mistakes, or help the government make a wise decision.”

The bill would expand the definition of a state secret. The penalty for public servants who disclose state secrets would rise from one year in jail to 10. Journalists and others could receive up to five years imprisonment if they are found to have used  “grossly inappropriate” means to acquire information.

“There is misunderstanding,” Abe was quoted as saying. “I want to firmly say that it is obvious that normal reporting activity of journalists must not be a subject for punishment under the bill.”

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), New Komeito, and the Opposition Your Party agreed to a few revisions last week to gain the votes of small conservative opposition parties.

One of the “concessions” was a provision stating that any government agency that fails to classify information as secret within the first 5 years of the enactment of the law will lose the power to classify information.

Nearly 63 percent of respondents to a Kyodo news agency survey expressed concerns about the bill.

“Clearly, there will be a chilling effect on access to a wide range of information,” said Meiji University law professor, Lawrence Repeta, was quoted as saying by Reuters. “It is clearly aimed at news media to block reporting in a way that may be critical of the government on a wide range of sensitive issues,” he added.

The bill was recently question by United Nations’ rapporteurs. (See previous report.)

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