On December 7th, the ruling bloc of the Japanese government passed into law a Secrecy bill which many feel threatens freedom of the speech and the freedom of the press.
For those who are interested in finding more about Japan’s Designated Secrets Law, here are source materials that you may find useful. These are material distributed to the foreign press by the Cabinet Office last week before the bill became law. The Abe cabinet promised to set up an oversight committee to oversee the use of the ability to classify information a “specially designated secret” but the law itself does not mandate such restraints. The proposed oversight agency or oversight office will have no independence from the government.
When we have a complete Japanese draft of the law, we will post it. Any comments on the materials or suggestions for other reference materials that should be posted are welcome.
December 9th, Tokyo* (Updated from December 7th post)
The Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (LDP) led ruling coalition passed the ominous new Designated Secrets Bill yesterday in the middle of the night on December 7th (Friday, Tokyo time), apparently fearing that the light of another day, or the harsh radiation of the truth, would cause the legislation to shrivel up and die. The ruling government cut off debate and forced a vote in the upper house of Japan’s parliament, The Diet, before the clock could strike midnight. 130 were in favor, 82 were opposed.
The law will punish journalists and whistleblowers who divulge government secrets with up to ten years in prison, and up to five years for those who “instigate leaks” (ask questions about state secrets). There is no independent third-party organization set in place to monitor how the law is applied and it gives every ministry and the smallest government agency or related committee carte blanche to declare any inconvenient information “top secret.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the LDP, Komeito, and “Your Party” relentlessly pushed the bill forward, despite a sudden dip in cabinet support rates to below 50% and increasing opposition within Japan and the world. Earlier this week, the LDP Secretary General, Shigeru Ishiba, labeled the growing protests “tantamount to terrorism” which prompted more public outcry. There were estimated to be 15,000 people outside Japan’s parliament (The Diet) chanting in protest when the bill was passed.
We don’t know what will be a secret. We don’t know who will be kept private under this law. And it’s a law that doesn’t inform the citizens of anything, so I oppose it… The current administration is slowly trying to create a country that has the ability to fight a war. I’ll continue to fight against this law, because it is the beginning of such a country. —Unemployed, 53, Yoriko W●●●, who protested the bill on December 6th
Every major news organization, publishing group, human rights group, in Japan opposed the bill. Even the Doctor’s and Dentist’s Association finally voiced disapproval of the draconian legislation. According to opinion polls, only 25% of the public supported it, and 50% opposed it.
The aims of this bill are not drawn out that clearly. We already have many laws against the leaking of information. The Civil Servant’s Laws etc (国家公務員法）So I don’t know why this law is necessary. Japan is a country that needs information to be open. This law stops the free flow of information and makes it hard for journalists to report on their stories. Kanna M●●● (46)
The (law) will effectively allow the government to proclaim any potentially embarrassing information a “state secret” and to keep it from the public for 10 years with the opportunity to extend that period. Under the new law, a whistleblower could face up to 10 years in jail for publishing what the government deems a “state secret.” That level of punishment for what is arguably not a crime is not protective. It’s repressive.
Over 80% of the Japanese population fears that the new laws will be used to cover up scandals and hide the truth from the public.
One individual who shares that fear is Michael Woodford, the former CEO of Olympus, Japan’s mega optical maker. Mr. Woodford courageously exposed 1.7 billion dollar accounting fraud at the company while he was still the CEO, at great personal risk, because he believed the truth had to be known. The mainstream Japanese media and associated parties went to great lengths to ignore his whistle blowing. Even the Financial Services Agency, which is supposed to ensure the transparency of Japan’s financial markets, made efforts to bury the story and leaked information which suggested that no criminal activity had been committed. It was the persistent investigative reporting of Japanese magazines like FACTA (which broke the story), ZAITEN and follow-ups by the foreign press that made the case impossible for law enforcement to ignore.
Here is what Mr. Woodford had to say in response our request for a comment. He eloquently summarizes the problems of the bill from his own personal experience.
“As someone who during the Olympus scandal experienced first-hand the deferential and self-censoring nature of much of the Japanese media, I’m profoundly concerned by the new state secrecy law. I remember a discussion with a leading Japanese financial journalist in January 2012, (held in front of Jonathan Soble of the Financial Times who broke the story) as to what would have happened if I had given them the file supporting my allegations, as opposed to a Western media outlet. The journalist was extremely honest in stating that they would have loved to have run the story but the editor would never have allowed this. The message was clear; you do not challenge a large Nikkei listed company of wrongdoing, regardless of the strength of evidence. I found this at the time profoundly depressing, as in developed democracies it’s the media which is the most effective mechanism for holding the powerful to account. We have seen this in practice from everything from Watergate to British parliamentarians being exposed for abusing their expenses.
Of course, every country has a fundamental right to protect its citizens’ interests and there is an obvious need for some issues relating to national security to be secret. However, it is the vague definition in the new bill of what actually constitutes a state secret which potentially gives officials carte blanche to block the release of information on a vast range of subjects. Whenever I’m asked to comment on the disputed islands in the East China Sea and ongoing tensions with China, I always emphasise that Japan is a peace-loving democracy, but this loosely worded bill, in my opinion, is more characteristic of the state controls of the world’s autocratic regimes. In essence, anything which makes a journalist in Japan even more uncomfortable with exposing wrongdoing, wherever it may exist, is a worrying development when transparency and openness should be the way forward.“
So it goes in the land of the setting sun….
*Note: This and other articles on the secrets bill at Japan Subculture Research Center may be quoted at length without permission. If possible, please credit the source in your posts or article. Also, I consider Michael Woodford to be a stand-up fellow, good friend, and I wrote the afterword to his book. Therefore, I may lack objectivity in believing him to be absolutely correct. Just so you know.
The first rule of the pending Japan’s Special Secrets Bill is that what will be a secret is secret. The second rule is that anyone who leaks a secret and a reporter who writes it up can face up to ten years in jail. The third rule is that there are no rules at to what government agency can declare state secrets and no checks on them to determine they don’t misuse the privilege; even of no longer existent agencies may have the power to declare their information secret. The fourth rule is that anything pertaining to nuclear energy is of course a state secret so there will not longer be any problem with nuclear power in this country because we won’t know anything about it. And what we don’t know can’t hurt us.
The right to know has now been officially superseded by the right of the government to make sure you don’t know what they don’t want you to know.
Legal experts note that even asking pointed questions about a state secret, whether you know or don’t know it’s a secret, could be treated as “instigating leaks” and the result in an arrest and a possible jail term up to five years. Of course, the trial would be complicated since the judge would not be allowed to know what secret the accused was suspected of trying to obtain.
Ask the wrong question, five years in jail.
And of course, trials about state secrets, would by the nature of the law, also be secret trials and closed to the public.
At this point in time, no one has really claimed authorship of the secrecy bill. The author is a secret. Kafka would seem the most likely scrivener for this perplexing legislation, if he was still alive, but ruling coalition members acknowledge that another famous white man from the past may have provided the real inspiration for the bill and its implementation.
An Upper House member of the Diet said on background to JSRC, “Deputy Prime Minister Aso Taro sort of telegraphed the punches of the administration by expressing his admiration for how the Nazi Party forcefully changed the German constitution this summer.Obviously, we’re not Nazis in Japan–because we hardly have any Jews, but we are like the defeated post World War I Germany in that we do not have the right to wage war to defend ourselves from our enemies. Just as Germany needed a strong man like Hitler to revive defeated Germany, Japan needs people like Abe to dynamically induce change.”
In August this year, Aso Taro, who is also the Finance Minister stated at a seminar, “Germany’s Weimar Constitution was changed into the Nazi Constitution before anyone knew. It was changed before anyone else noticed. Why don’t we learn from that method?”
It’s obvious that the Abe administration which pushed this bill into the Diet without public hearings and even the standard deliberations with Japan’s legal establishment has been an apt pupil of their German predecessors. They even attempted to pass the bill in the middle of the night yesterday while most of Japan was sleeping. The administration hasn’t been able to set a fire to the Diet building to justify a harsher crackdown but the LDP Secretary General was kind enough to say that those noisily protesting the bill were committing “terrorist acts.”
The hawkish Prime Minister Abe has publicly stated his ambition to revise Japan’s constitution to rid it of Article 9, which forbids Japan from waging war. Upper house Diet member, Taro Yamamoto and others have publicly stated they believe the current bill is a stepping-stone to recreate a fascist Japan, as it existed prior to the Second World War.
It might all seems like a bad joke, except for the Orwellian nature of the bill being proposed and a key Cabinet member expressing his admiration for the Nazis.
If you have any idea who’s responsible for the drafting of this legislation and how it came into being, please let us know. The JSRC welcomes any contributions on the subject.