TOKYO, Japan – A controversial state secrets bill is being pushed forward in Japan that many find reminiscent of the Japanese authoritarian past. The Japanese government will have authority to classify whatever it deems to be secret and gag the media. Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba made clear that opposition to the bill is an act of terrorism. The Japanese people fear the amount of freedom that may be lost if the bill is signed into legislation.
The state secrets bill is uncomfortably familiar to the Japanese people because of its similarity to the Peace and Preservation Law. Before World War II, the Peace and Preservation Law empowered the government to apprehend and imprison those who were not in accordance with state policies. The press is especially affected by the state secrets bill because inquiry into anything classified as a state secret will be against the law making investigative journalism essentially illegal.
In fact, the Japanese freedom of press has been on the decline since before the state secrets bill. Reporters Without Borders ranked Japanese freedom of press 53 on a list of 179 countries for 2013 after falling 31 places from the previous year, with the lack of coverage on the Fukushima radiation risks being blamed for the dropped rank. After such a significant drop in a single year, Japanese freedom of press may drop even lower once the state secrets bill is law.
What is classified as a state secret is largely left to the interpretation of the Japanese government due to the vague language of the bill. Accordingly, the Japanese public worries that the power could be abused by the government and activities such as protesting could be charged as terrorism. Serious issues that affect the public may be classified as secret and the public will no longer have the right to address the government about them.
Public health also comes into question under the state secrets bill if the government administers the law strictly. Vaccine victims may lose the right to protest how their claims are handled by the government. Furthermore, radiation levels from the Fukushima nuclear plant could possibly be made a state secret and those exposed may not have enough access to the information they need.
On the other hand, Upper House Councilor Taro Yamamoto is not in agreement with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for the state secrets bill. He supports investigative journalism, has concerns that Japan is headed towards fascism and also believes that the state secrets bill is part of a coup undertaken by politicians and bureaucrats. His sentiments are in agreement with a senior official of the National Police Agency who suggested that the bill is a cover-up for Abe’s questionable activities and misuse of legislative power.
As it is, a maximum 10 year prison sentence is the penalty for those who leak state secrets concerning defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism. One issue surrounding sentencing penalties, however, is that the Japanese conviction rate exceeds 99%, the cause being innocent people are wrongly arrested and eventually confess to crimes they did not commit. Suspects are, furthermore, interviewed without an attorney present, which makes them more vulnerable.
Confessing to a crime in Japan is done to receive a lighter sentence since confession is seen as a form of repentance, thus ridding a person of guilt. Restrictions placed on the power Japanese police have in investigations makes it difficult to obtain sound evidence for fair prosecution.
Japan’s state secrets bill may have adverse effects on how free speech, human rights and democracy are conducted if it becomes law and a hardline approach is taken. As national security concerns mount, Japanese state transparency may lessen.
– Brittany Mannings
Sources: Bloomberg, The Daily Beast, The Japan Times, BBC News
Photo: CS Monitor