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Japan secrecy act stirs fears about press freedom, right to know

Japan secrecy act stirs fears about press freedom, right to know

October 27, 2013 - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is planning a state secrets act that critics say could curtail public access to information on a wide range of issues, including tensions with China and the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The new law would dramatically expand the definition of official secrets and journalists convicted under it could be jailed for up to five years.

Japan's harsh state secrecy regime before and during World War Two has long made such legislation taboo, but the new law looks certain to be enacted since Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led bloc has a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament and the opposition has been in disarray since he came to power last December.

Critics see parallels between the new law and Abe's drive to revise Japan's U.S.-drafted, post-war constitution to stress citizen's duties over civil rights, part of a conservative agenda that includes a stronger military and recasting Japan's wartime history with a less apologetic tone.

"There is a demand by the established political forces for greater control over the people," said Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University. "This fits with the notion that the state should have broad authority to act in secret."

Abe says the new law, a draft of which was approved by his cabinet on Friday and should be passed by parliament in the current session, is vital to his plan to set up a U.S.-style National Security Council to oversee security policies and coordinate among ministries.

Outside Abe's official residence, several dozen protesters gathered in the rain in a last-minute appeal against the move.

"We are resolutely against this bill. You could be subject to punishments just by revealing what needs to be revealed to the public," one of the protesters said.

Legal and media experts say the law, which would impose harsh penalties on those who leak secrets or try to obtain them, is too broad and vague, making it impossible to predict what would come under its umbrella. The lack of an independent review process leaves wide latitude for abuse, they say.

"Basically, this bill raises the possibility that the kind of information about which the public should be informed is kept secret eternally," Tadaaki Muto, a lawyer and member of a task force on the bill at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, told Reuters.

"Under the bill, the administrative branch can set the range of information that is kept secret at its own discretion."

Media watchdogs fear the law would seriously hobble journalists' ability to investigate official misdeeds and blunders, including the collusion between regulators and utilities that led to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.


Sources and more information:

Fuk-'hush'-ima: Japan's new state secrets law gags whistleblowers, raises press freedom fears

New Japanese State Secrets Act Prompts Fear About Press Freedoms


( via reuters.com )


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