State secrets act moves one step closer to approval

News & Views - November 27th, 2013

The lower house of the Japanese parliament has approved a state secrecy bill Tuesday that imposes stringent penalties on potential whistleblowers.

The bill was approved by the powerful lower house after it was delayed following hours of protests by opposition lawmakers. It will now go to the upper house, where it is also likely to be passed, reports the BBC.

The law raises penalties on civil servants who leak secrets and journalists who try to obtain them. The definition of state secrets was also expanded and allows top officials to designate information as state secrets.

Critics said the provision is aimed at suppressing press freedom and gives the government more room to censure sensitive information, such as the nuclear industry. Nearly 63% of respondents polled by Kyodo news agency last weekend expressed concerns about the bill.

Opposition said the new rules would adversely impact freedom of information, civil liberties and the public’s right to know.

“Clearly, there will be chilling effect on access to a wide range of information,” said Meiji University law professor Lawrence Repeta.

“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 said.

Under the law, public servants who are found to have revealed classified information could face up to 10 years in jail. Journalists and others in the private sector convicted of encouraging such leaks could get up to five years if they use “grossly inappropriate” means to solicit the information.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic party says the law is needed to encourage the US and other allies to share national security information with Japan.

“The law is designed to protect the safety of the people,” Abe said, adding that further parliamentary debate would be held to consider concerns of the public.

The bill coincides with plans to create a Japanese National Security Council that would be modeled after the US’ own. The proposed entity come directly under the premier’s office as Abe seeks to strengthen Japan’s role in global security.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image of anti-nuclear protestors outside of Parliament: jetalone/Flickr