Japan Government Faces Voter Backlash on New Secrecy Laws

The laws mean public servants who leak state secrets can be jailed for up to 10 years, while journalists convicted of encouraging such leaks can receive up to five years.

INDONESIA

Sabtu, 14 Des 2013 13:53 WIB

Author

Sajithra Nithi Radio Australia

Japan Government Faces Voter Backlash on New Secrecy Laws

Japan, Secrecy Law, democracy, information, Radio Australia

Japan's new state secrets law have been described as "the largest threat to democracy" in the nation's post-war history.

The laws mean public servants who leak state secrets can be jailed for up to 10 years, while journalists convicted of encouraging such leaks can receive up to five years.

Under the new law, top Japanese officials in all ministries can designate special state secrets under four categories - defence, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and espionage.

They can then be kept secret for up to 60 years or, in some cases, even longer.

Masako Mori, the minister in charge of the secrecy law, says it's all about national security.

“With the current tension in the international sphere, in order to protect the livelihood and nation of our citizens it is necessary and urgent that this (bill) Was passed."

But the media, lawyers and rights groups have criticised it , worried about press freedom and the public's right to know.

And, with laws already exisiting to protect sensitive information, why this new one?

“Things that really aren't sensitive but might be inconvenient to bureaucrats will suddenly be labelled secret and nobody can find out about that information."

Dr Jeff Kingston, from Temple University in Tokyo, says in recent decades there have been a number of corruption scandals in Japan involving bureaucrats.

And, as people learned about them, the more they wanted to know.

“Over the past 10 years, support for freedom of information has grown in society, because people believe transparency and accountability are key to good governance. They know what happens if bureaucrats know nobody's looking over their shoulder - it's a recipe for bad governance."

The new law has no provision for third-party oversight, something the government has only promised verbally.

Dr Kingston says concerns are rising.

“This is actually what they're worried about, that government trying to curtail political freedoms of the people, and this is underminding the whole point of transparency, accountability and good governance."

Ruling party MP Shigeru Ishiba recently likened people protesting against the law to terrorists, and says the law can help Japan deal with recent regional tensions.

“With things such as the establishment of the China air zone, there is definitely an increasing anxiety regarding the security and safety of our citizens; with the passing of the state secrets law, we are able to improve the security of our nation."

But Dr Jeff Kingston believes it has very little to do with China.

“Certainly China acting like a credible bogey-man has put winds in the sail, promoting it's secrecy and security agenda. But I think in actual fact, there's very little connection with China."

The new state secrets law appears to have already cost the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.

His support rate has fallen by 10 percent over the past month, to 47.6 percent.

And a nationwide telephone survey by Kyodo news found 82 percent of respondents wanted the law revised or abolished.


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