Japan passes secrecy bill amid opposition
Updated: 2013-12-06 11:09
TOKYO - A special Diet committee on Thursday approved a controversial state secrecy bill, with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) coalition coming one step closer to having the bill enacted in the Upper House on Friday.
Deliberations in the committee meeting were heated, with opposition parties remaining staunchly opposed to the bill's passage that will grant the government more authority to dish out tougher penalties to those leaking sensitive secrets pertaining to diplomacy, defense and the state's involvement in counterterrorism and counterespionage activities.
In a bid to ease growing amounts of public and political opposition to the bill, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would seek to establish two independent entities within the government to ensure the clear designation of what it determines to be a state secret, but the move has also been met with skepticism by opposition members.
With the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) poised to possibly file a censure motion against Masako Mori, state minister in charge of the bill, in a bid to prolong the vote to enable further deliberations beyond the end of the current Diet session on Friday, Abe maintained that the bill is vital to the legal jurisdiction of his newly-formed National Security Council ( NSC), which will provide Abe with more clout on issues of defense, inter-governmental information sharing and the sharing of sensitive issues with Japan's allies such as the United States.
With opposition parties, professional lobbies and the public largely opposed to the bill, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga tried to quell concerns in the committee meeting Thursday, stating that the two proposed entities charged with overseeing the designation and declassification of state secrets would work with a "high degree of independence."
Abe previously told a parliamentary committee that one of the new independent advisory bodies within the government will be comprised of legal and media experts to determine the parameters of what can be called a "special secret," how they will be handled and issues pertaining to their declassification.
The second entity, meanwhile, will be set up within the Cabinet Secretariat, Abe said, where senior ministers will verify the validity of the designation of special secrets by the prime minister, his Cabinet and other senior government officials.
"We are making preparations to ensure that the law will be enforced in an appropriate manner and the government will create a post to oversee the management and disposal of official documents that include special secrets," Abe stated.
But with Suga in the upper house committee meeting urging the opposition to shift its stance on the issue, and ensure the bill' s smooth passage into law through the chamber prior to the end of the current Diet session, DPJ leader Banri Kaieda questioned the integrity of the independent entities floated by Abe to ensure the public's right to information, stating that these rights would be undermined by shadowy bureaucrats and the nation's democratic ideals severely compromised.
Kaieda said that Japan needs "a third party, not a quasi-third party, system that can impose checks," adding that the bill was " created by bureaucrats so that the bureaucrats can hide information."
The DPJ chief's sentiments have been echoed by institutional organizations nationwide, spanning the media, publishing, legal and entertainment industries, with spokespeople collectively stating they are highly concerned about the bill granting the government too much autonomy over what it deems to be sensitive information and could gag sources from making pertinent information available to the public.
Prominent lawyers, journalists and film makers have voiced criticism of the bill, with highly revered animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, uniting to create a group called the Committee to Oppose the State Secrets Protection Act.
"Reflecting on our seniors in the film world who were forced to support war against their wishes, the Japanese film world walked a new path in the post-war period in mortification and remorse," the newly established group with close to 300 supports said in a statement.
The group is concerned that government blunders and coverups like those concerning the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, that have a direct bearing on the well-being of both Japanese and global citizens, could be further withheld from the public under the new secrecy law.
From a media perspective, the group said that along with other media outlets and journalists, freedom of expression could lead to severe repercussions for those deemed to be acting in contravention to a bill that remains abundantly vague.
Notable political pundits have also likened the new bill to Japan's wartime secrecy maneuvers that allowed Japan's Imperial Forces to act with impunity during World War II, beyond the scope of government and public scrutiny.
To this point, so outraged was opposition lawmaker Hirokazu Shiba in the committee meeting Thursday, that he rose from his seat and shouted "This is the way the reign of terror begins!" His fervor led to his fellow lawmakers having to physically restrain Shiba, as tensions in the meeting reached fever pitch.
Meanwhile, protests comprising more than 7,000 demonstrators continued around the Diet building, mobilized by civic groups, unions and concerned individuals, following similar scenes Wednesday that saw more than 6,000 anti-secrecy law opponents march around the Diet building hand-in-hand.
The public and opposition parties have also been incensed by the manner in which the ruling bloc steamrolled the bill through the lower house, despite calls for further debate and a in spite of a harsh public backlash that has caused Abe's support rate to drop, as more than fifty percent of citizens polled here in a national survey recently stated they were opposed to the bill.
More than half of all Japanese citizens have stated that the law requires more debate, with 22 percent insisting the bill be withdrawn entirely, recent national surveys have shown.