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article imageOp-Ed: Japan's state secrets law has stiff penalties for whistleblowers

By Ken Hanly     Oct 25, 2013 in Politics
Tokio - New draft legislation will alter the relatively lenient penalties that Japan now has for revealing state secrets. If passed whistleblowers revealing state secrets could be jailed for as long as ten years.
The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government agreed on a draft of the legislation Friday (Oct. 25) and hopes that it will be passed by December 6 when the parliamentary sessions ends. Critics say that the new law would give too much power to the executive to conceal information important to the public and would also harm freedom of the press. The present law is relatively lenient and applies only to defense issues: Currently only issues of defense can be designated state secret in Japan, and non-military leakers face a jail term of up to one year. Defense officials may be sentenced to five years for exposing secrets, or 10 years, if the classified information they leaked came from the US military. US secrets are apparently more important than Japanese.
The new law is not only harsher but also extends the range of state secrets so that other government branches than defense can designate information as state secrets. This opens the floodgates to classifying information. The bill also names four categories of special secrets under defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.
Ministries will be able to classify information for five years but with the possibility of extensions up to 30 years. The cabinet would need to pass any further extensions but there is no time limit. Tadaaki Muto, a member of a task force on the bill at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations told the press: "Under the bill, the administrative branch can set the range of information that is kept secret at its own discretion."
Media watchdogs in Japan worry that the bill would allow the government to cover up serious wrongdoings such as collusion between regulators and utilities which was a factor in the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. The problems are still not solved and there are worries that the government is again not revealing all the facts about what is happening:
" Dealing with hundreds of tonnes of groundwater flowing through the wrecked nuclear plant daily is a constant headache for the utility and for the government, casting doubt on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's promises that the Fukushima water "situation is under control. After heavy rain on Sunday, water with high levels of radioactive strontium overflowed containment areas built around some 1,000 tanks storing tonnes of radioactive water at the plant, Tepco said.
The government added a clause to the bill that gives "utmost considerations" to citizens' right to know and freedom of the press." at the request of the new Komeito Party, a coalition partner. The clause also says that news reporting is legitimate if its purpose is to serve the public good and the information is not obtained in unlawful or extremely unjust ways. In the 1970's reporter Takichi Nishiyama revealed a secret US-Japanese pact in which Japan paid $4 million to the US to help defray the cost of transferring Okinawa back to Japanese rule in 1972. The report was proved correct in 2000 . He had received secret documents from a married Foreign Ministry clerk with whom he had an affair. He was arrested and convicted of the charge. This ruined his career. No doubt the increased penalty for revealing information relating to the US military in the older bill was partly a function of this case.
Abe also wants to revise the US-drafted post-war constitution so that it stresses citizens' duties over civil rights and his agenda also includes a stronger military. Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University says: "There is a demand by the established political forces for greater control over the people. This fits with the notion that the state should have broad authority to act in secret."
Abe says the new law, is vital to his plan to set up a U.S.-style National Security Council to oversee security policies and coordinate among ministries. Japan is still imitating the US but in all the wrong ways.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Japan, accountability in Japan, Fukushima power plant
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