Bill to stifle flow of information poised to pass in Japan

New York, December 3, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned by a new state secrets bill before the Japanese parliament, which, if passed, would broaden the government’s power to determine which information can be kept secret.

Under the bill, government officials would be able to designate certain information that has the potential to jeopardize Japan’s national security as “specified secrets,” news reports said. The specified secrets would cover four categories: defense, diplomacy, prevention of spying and other specified harmful activities, and prevention of terrorism.

Under the bill, a whistleblower could face up to 10 years in jail for leaking what the government deems a “state secret,” according to local reports.

“Authoritarian governments in Asia have long used vague justifications for controlling information, but CPJ expects better from Japan,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. “This measure would obstruct the free flow of news and intimidate the press into silence on certain issues.”

The bill, which is currently before the upper house of Japan’s Diet, was approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet in October. The bill cleared the Diet’s lower house on November 26, Agence France-Presse reported. The upper house is expected to pass it before the current Diet session ends on December 6, news reports said. The bill is backed by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in coalition with the New Komeito Party, which together hold a strong majority in both chambers of the legislature.

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets to express their opposition to the bill, reports said. A recent poll by Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese national daily, found voter opposition to the bill at 50 percent and rising, while support for the Abe government has fallen to 49 percent. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also raised concerns about the bill this week, news reports said.