The United Nations’ top human rights official urged the Japanese government on Monday to heed public concerns raised at home and abroad over a bill that is set to pass to toughen penalties for leakers of state secrets. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay joined the multitude of voices that have sounded out in protest of the state secrets bill, saying that this bill has all the potentials of impugning on the citizens’ right to know and the freedom of the press.
“I would encourage the government and the legislature to hear national and international concerns,” Pillay told journalists in Geneva. She said that two U.N. experts on freedom of expression and the right to health recently voiced serious concerns about the law for failing to live up to human rights standards. “Some of the concerns are that there is not sufficient clarity as to what constitutes a secret,” Pillay said, adding that it “allows the government to designate any inconvenient information as secret.” Pillay urged the Japanese lawmakers not to “rush through the law without first putting in proper safeguards for the rights to access to information and freedom of expression as guaranteed in Japan’s Constitution and international human rights law.”
The proposed state secrets law cleared the Lower House last week and is likely to be approved by the upper chamber sometime this week. The law would then designate certain sensitive information within the government as “special secrets” and impose penalties of up to 10 years in prison for those who leak it. Although Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tried to dispel public concern after the Lower House vote, domestic opposition to the controversial bill has surged. Protests have sprung up all over the country, even as Abe tries to dispel fears of the law being used to hide more information from the public rather than efficiently manage it.