Friday, December 26, 2014

Japan's State Secrets Law Goes into Effect


The Mainichi has an editorial about Japan's new State Secrets law that is going into effect. I've posted excerpts from the editorial here and an excerpt from my book chapter on the end of liberal democracy in Japan below, from our edited collection on Fukushima and Dispossession. Here is the recent op ed decrying the law:
The Mainichi (25, December). As I See It: State secrets law goes into effect, what now? http://mainichi.jp/english/english/perspectives/news/20141225p2a00m0na004000c.html

The more one reads the law, the more problems emerge. Twenty-three categories of secrets (55 under the operation guidelines) are named, but it's difficult to draw a clear distinction between secrets and non-secrets. One is left with the impression that information the administration finds inconvenient could be buried.

The designation of secrets is renewed every five years, for a maximum of 30 years, and at times 60 years. In some cases, the designation can be extended for even longer, if the information is deemed an exception.

The maximum penalty for leaking secrets is 10 years' imprisonment. Until now under the National Public Service Act, those charged with violating confidentiality requirements faced a maximum penalty of one year in prison, and those charged with leaking defense-related secrets were subject to a maximum of five years in prison, so the penalty has toughened dramatically under the state secrets law.

Punishments for those who try to acquire secrets are harsh, too. If authorities determine that one has attempted, conspired to effect, induced or incited information leakages, one can face up to five years in prison.....
Majia here:  Japan's new State Secrets Law was vigorously contested when it was first passed. I wrote about the law in my edited collection with Tony Boys, Andrew McKillop and Richard Wilcox:

Fukushima: Dispossession or Denuclearization available here for $1.99 at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Fukushima-Denuclearization-Nadesan-McKillop-Wilcox-ebook/dp/B00NT65OK8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419609747&sr=8-1&keywords=fukushima+and+dispossession+nadesan+wilcox

[Excerpted] In 2013 Japan’s LDP party pushed through a highly controversial state secrets bill. The bill has been vocally opposed by political opposition to the LDP, by editorials in the Japanese media, and in excoriating comments made by well-known Japanese citizens. The law stipulates harsh penalties for whistleblowers and fails to require government disclosure of what becomes secret (Yamaguchi, 2013). Critics charge it could undermine Japan’s democracy.

Many in Japan see the secrecy bill as a direct threat to Japan’s status as a peaceful democratic nation. One survey found more than 80 percent of Japanese citizens distrust the law, feeling it will be used by government to hide corruption and troubling information (Adelstein, 2013). Discontent with the bill is high among Japanese officials of opposition parties and within professional organizations. “Japan already has a very weak freedom of information act which this will cripple,” said Yutaka Saito, a member of the Japan In-House Lawyers Association task force. “The bill takes everything bad about national security laws in the U.S. and then removes all the safeguards and checks” (Adelstein, 2013).

Well known Japanese citizens have also raised alarm about the bill’s potential effects. Nobel laureates, Toshihide Maskawa and Hideki Shirakawa, spearheaded a public letter of protest signed by 3,000 academics, declaring support for “the pacifist principles and fundamental human rights established by the constitution” while calling simultaneously for the law’s immediate rejection” (Nader, 2014). Non-fiction writer Kunio Yanagida talked to Hiroshi Dai, Senior Member of the "Open Newspaper" Committee about his concerns with the bill given Japan’s historically “secretive” bureaucratic culture:
In the Japanese bureaucracy, it is common to hide not only information concerning national defense or foreign affairs but to keep general information about any matter a secret. Since I was involved in the government’s Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations and the Ministry of the Environment’s panel for the Minamata disease issue, I strongly feel the negative effects of the secretive culture. . . . Bureaucrats hide their inconvenient truths while making up things that never existed. The bureaucracy today still functions on the principle that things are fine as long as they add up in the paperwork. This thinking once played a major part in the former Japanese Imperial Army. The number of special secrets will increase just like military secrets did before Japan went into World War II…. (“Writer Calls for Change,” 2014)
Yanagida went on to warn that the bill could actually criminalize free speech. He observed that LDP’s Shigeru Ishiba’s comment comparing “protest rallies” to “terrorism” illustrates growing intolerance for free speech among government officials. He also warned that journalists could be punished for reporting on state secrets.

International and national media organizations have echoed these concerns. Reporters without Borders condemned the bill Nov. 27 2013, for violating a free press (Adelstein, 2013). Within Japan, the mainstream media have demonstrated their concern about the new law in prominent editorials decrying its effects on democracy and civil society, as exemplified by this December 2013 editorial in The Japan Times titled “Government without Oversight”:
People have the right to know what their government is doing. Ensuring this right is the foundation of democracy. The state secrets bill, which the Abe administration Thursday rammed through the Upper House Special Committee on National Security for enactment, undermines this foundation because it blocks citizens” access to an extremely large amount of government-held information. This also means that lawmakers” access to important information held by bureaucracy will be blocked. Citizens and lawmakers should be aware that the bill will greatly change the nature of Japanese politics because it will severely limit the powers of people’s representatives and the Diet itself despite the fact that Article 41 of the Constitution says, “The Diet shall be the highest organ of state power, and shall be the sole lawmaking organ of the State.” Japan’s democracy is now in a deep crisis. (“Government without Oversight,” 2013)
A more trenchant editorial published also in The Japan Times in 2013 described the bill as transforming the nation into the “new Uzbekistan of press freedom in Asia”:
The first rule of the pending state secrets bill is that a secret is a secret. The second rule is that anyone who leaks a secret and/or a reporter who makes it public via a published report or broadcast can face up to 10 years in prison. The third rule is that there are no rules as to which government agencies can declare information to be a state secret and no checks on them to determine that they don’t abuse the privilege; even defunct agencies can rule their information to be secret. The fourth rule is that anything pertaining to nuclear energy is a state secret, which means there will no longer be any problems with nuclear power in this country because we won’t know anything about it. And what we don’t know can’t hurt us. The right to know has now officially been superseded by the right of the government to make sure you don’t know what they don’t want you to know.…. The law has been compared to the pre-World War II Peace Preservation Law, which was used to arrest and jail any individual who opposed the government party line. (Adelstein, 2013)
As illustrated by these passages, many Japanese media outlets took a strong stance against the law, fearing loss of democratic governance and the criminalization of free speech. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations publicly raised concerns that the new law would increase the government’s tendency to censor nuclear information (Okuyama & Sunaoshi, 2013). One representative from that organization suggested the law could be used to censor radiation readings....

 

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