16.12.2014 Author: Vladimir Odintsov

Japan: The Law on State Secret

4353532Despite the extensive criticism from non-governmental organizations, politicians, and lawyers both in Japan and abroad, the law on protection of state secret proposed in October 2013 by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and adopted by a majority vote of the Upper House of the Japanese Parliament in December 2013 entered into force on December 9, 2014.

This law toughened the penalties for disclosing classified information and provided the heads of 19 ministries and agencies with the right to apply secrecy stamps on information concerning foreign and defence policy and the activities of national intelligence services, in particular those aimed at combating terrorism and preventing subversive activities, including espionage. In this way, according to Japanese non-governmental organizations, the current government has classified more than 500,000 documents. According to this law, persons involved in disclosure of classified information (including journalists, academics, government employees, military personnel, and even members of the parliament) may be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations believe that the provisions of the law allow numerous interpretations. The law gives excessive discretion in interpretation of the concept of “state secret”, allows the country’s government officials to conceal any “sensitive” information in order to hide it from the public eye, to exercise control over the information, to strictly punish attempts to disclose it, and to punish unwanted persons. Authorities may now, by virtue of this law, keep information secret for a period of up to 60 years or more.

It is worth remembering that the law was drafted and adopted as a result of direct pressure on Tokyo from Washington primarily in order to provide legislative protection for the secrecy of “bilateral alliance relations.” In particular, this law was triggered by the last Japan – US security treaty with all its consequences: missile and conventional rearmament of Japan with participation of the United States and closer military cooperation.

It is noteworthy that the law was adopted upon recommendation by the American side at a time when Japan, in accordance with the Japan – US agreement on military aid, had started to receive the latest weapons from the United States. The law on state secret must, according to the current government of Japan, lead to full integration of the Japanese armed forces and intelligence services into the “Pivot to Asia” being carried out by the White House together with the joint military deterrence of China.

Washington’s diktat is clearly evident in the fact that, in the event of extraordinary circumstances, the entire territory of Japan essentially becomes a military base for the United States, its weaponry may be placed there, and the Japanese Self-Defence Forces are transferred under the command of the American army.

Since the discussed law is aimed at complete restriction of personal freedom and speech, it has already for almost a year been the subject of contention in Japanese society. Thus, on December 10, 2014 several hundred people staged a protest in front of the residence of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe against the law on state secrets, chanting “We are against the law on state secrets”, “Information belongs to the citizens of the country.”

Japanese journalists, the influential Federation of Bar Associations, as well as other organizations have come out as actively opposing the law. Journalists point out that the law could create serious obstacles to legally collecting data and conducting journalistic and public inquiries.

In particular, the law will close for the Japanese and the global community the public issues that are very important for the regional and the global security, such as the continuing investigation of the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, and the continuing contamination of the environment and the marine basin that is the source of biological resources not only for Japan, but also for many other countries.

This law will veto the investigation of various secret agreements of the Government of Japan. In particular, those with the United States, including the one that was uncovered in 2009 by the famous Japanese journalist Masakatsu Ota of Kyodo News, who deals with issues of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. It’s worth reminding that the mentioned uncovered agreement was on the secret military cooperation between Japan and the United States and the deployment of US nuclear weapons in Japan under the so-called “Nuclear umbrella” of the US, which is contrary to the provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Back in the day the information on that agreement caused a major political scandal in Japan and a subsequent investigation of the activities of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

The American Open Society Foundation, which played a major role in the adoption of the international principles of national security and the right to information – the so-called “Tshwane Principles” (named after the South African city of Tshwane, where in June 2013 more than 500 experts came together, including representatives of the United Nations) – also expressed its deep concern that the content of the law on the protection of classified information does not meet the international standards. The law was sharply criticized by the senior advisor to the Foundation and the former senior US official Morton Halperin: “Japan’s Secrecy Law is the worst of anything that a democratic government has considered in the 21st century.”

Opposition to this law has also been voiced by many Japanese scientists, including Nobel Prize winners Toshihide Maskawa and Hideki Shirakawa, who, together with 3,000 academics, signed an indignant open letter calling the law on state secret a “threat to the pacifist principles and the fundamental human rights that are enshrined in the Constitution”, and called for its immediate abolition.

Japan’s adoption of the law on state secret is definitely a step backwards in development of civil liberties in the country.

This step also demonstrates to the international community Washington’s active desire to use its financial, political, and military leverage to push through the parliaments of its satellite countries similar regulations to classify, to the maximum extent possible, its own activities and covert operations abroad. By lobbying for such legislation, Washington is striving to ensure that its violations of the international law, which is constantly trampled by the White House in the course of military interventions in independent states or the activities of secret laboratories and torture in CIA prisons overseas, do not fall into the hands of the international community.

Vladimir Odintsov is a political commentator, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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