"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."
Under this special law, public officials and private citizens who leak vaguely defined "special state secrets" face prison terms of up to 10 years, while journalists who seek to obtain the classified information could get up to five years.
Critics say it shows Japan's return to the days of prewar and wartime Japanese militarism, when the state used the Peace Preservation Act to arrest and imprison political opponents.
"It is a threat to democracy," said Keiichi Kiriyama, an editorial writer for the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper, adding that the legislation would "have a chilling effect on public servants, who could become wary about giving the information" to journalists."
The US, still paying for the aftermath of Assange and Snowden, has apparently placed pressured on Japan to increase efforts against secret leaks. Abe, who will not face election for five more years, insists that the strict law is necessary for his "US-style security council to properly function." Critics, particularly though in Asia, are saying Abe is pushing through with his nationalist agenda to restore Japan's military forces.
Other critics say that Abe's true intentions could be to hide Tokyo Electric Power Co's (Tepco) negligence during the Fukushima disaster. The Japanese media fears the law could restrict their ability to investigate illegal acts done by officials, particularly the blunders between regulators and utilities that led to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
"A probe by an independent parliamentary panel found that collusion between regulators and the nuclear power industry was a key factor in the failure to prevent the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (Tepco) tsunami-hit Fukushima plant in March 2011, and the government and the utility remain the focus of criticism for their handling of the on-going crisis."
Other concerns include the ambiguity of the law, possibly suggesting that anything the government at large or the Prime Minister scrutinizes under their discretion can be withheld from public knowledge.
"The new legislation would create four categories of "special secrets" that should be kept classified - defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.
"Top officials in all ministries - rather than only defense officials as currently - will be able to designate state secrets for five years, renewable in five-year increments and potentially indefinitely, although cabinet approval would be required after 30 years.
"As things stand, the state gets a more or less free hand in deciding what constitutes a state secret and it can potentially keep things secret forever."
Abe has dismissed claims that the law will act as a watchdog over the media, "There is a misunderstanding," he said. "It is obvious that normal reporting activity of journalists must not be a subject to punishment." However, "the justice minister, Sadakazu Tanigaki, refused to rule out police raids of newspapers suspected of breaking the law."
The law before passing was met with wide spread protest. "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.
Not a celebrity or culture news story but since it's the most important story in Japan at the moment with nationwide protest, I thought it would be worth adding here. Very interested in how much heat Abe is taking for this since just this last quarter the Prime Minister had very high approval rating for his economic reforms. Thoughts Arama? Is Abe solely being pushed by pressure from Washington or could it be due to investigations in Fukushima and the tensions between China and North Korea?
The New York Times, Reuters, The Guardian, RT