As Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to consolidate the country’s foreign and defense policies, one proposed law under his administration is getting a very negative reaction from Japanese citizens – this is the “Secrets Protection Bill”, part of a package of proposed security legislation that includes provisions that will punish those who leak “state secrets”, and also a provision to create Japan’s version of the U.S. National Security Council. The bill has caused uproar among the Japanese public, saying that passing the bill might spell the end of journalistic freedom in the country.
Analysts say the primary objective of the bill is to convince Japan’s allies that the nation can actually protect classified issues, what with the embarrassing leaks the Japanese government has experienced in the past few years. Yet journalists, lawyers and the general public see something more foundational beyond it – an infringement on journalistic freedom, and the government’s ability to keep the public in the dark will be protected. No wonder that out of the 90,480 opinions collected by the government online last month, a big majority of 77% were against the law.
The public and the government cannot seem to agree on what constitutes a “state secret”, with the Japanese citizens saying that the term is so vague that virtually anything can be lumped into it. The outline of the bill says a state secret is information that should be kept classified “because a leak could seriously compromise our country’s security.” The government lists defense, terrorism, foreign policy and actions that threaten national safety as main areas to be covered. The proposed bill also provides for up to 10 years of jail time for letting a state secret leak. This, according to critics of the bill, could discourage public officials from sharing information with journalists. Japan’s constitution states, “freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.”
On the other hand, government officials have said that the final version of the law, if passed, will respect journalistic freedom. “Freedom of reporting has already been prescribed so including that line again doesn’t have any meaning,” Kenji Yamagishi, head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, said last month. “It won’t change the serious infringement on constitutionally provided civil liberties caused by the heavy punishments — even for crimes of negligence — included in this bill.”
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