Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stood firm against criticism over a new state secrets act, saying the law was “necessary” to “protect lives”, as support for the hawkish premier slipped according to polls.

The new law, which toughens penalties for potential whistleblowers and for those who encourage leaks of classified information, steamrolled through parliament amid opposition from officials and journalists who fear it would infringe on the public’s right to know.

Abe was quick to defend the law especially at a time when “the security environment surrounding Japan is becoming harsher.” He had previously cited the brewing regional tensions over China’s creation of an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) that covers Japanese-administered islands in the East China Sea.

“In order to protect people’s lives and property, it was necessary to pass the special secrecy law as quickly as possible,” Abe told reporters.

The law was also aimed at paving the way for the new National Securities Council, which was modeled after the US’ own.

“Unless our country establishes rules to manage confidential information, we cannot obtain such information from other countries,” Abe said.

Despite Abe’s reassurances that the new law was not draconian, his popularity among the public fell in rankings.

An opinion poll published by broadcaster Japan News Network showed support for Abe’s government dropped 13.9 points from the previous month to 54.6 percent, the lowest since he took office.

Kyodo news agency in a separate poll showed support for Abe fell 10.3 points to 47.6 percent since the last poll in November.

Abe acknowledged the backlash but vowed to take more time to explain the bill carefully.

“With humility and sincerity, I must take the severe opinion from the public as a reprimand from the people. I now look back and think with regret that I should have spent more time to explain the bill carefully,” Abe said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will continue to clarify the secrecy law to the public.

“The government was expecting support to fall this time,” he said.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: todayonline.com