Japan has passed a strict new state-secret law, which Reporters Without Borders is calling “an unprecedented threat to freedom of information.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says it’s essential to convince allies to share intelligence with Japan, but critics charge that the law will help the Japanese government conceal its misdeeds, limit freedom of the press, and chill whistleblowers.
“This law will restrict the peoples’ right to know,” said protester Tomoki Hiyama. “It’s full of ambiguity and will take us back to the ‘public peace and order’ controls of World War Two.”
Though the law was passed over a year ago, it came into effect December 10. Protesters waved banners and beat drums in Tokyo’s streets, hours before it came into force. Now, whistleblowing will come at a heavy cost. Public servants or others who leak state secrets could face up to 10 years of prison time. Journalists and others who encourage leaks could face up to five years of prison time.
“The law says that the act of leaking itself is bad no matter what the circumstances,” said Yukiko Miki of Clearinghouse Japan, a non-profit organisation promoting the disclosure of information.
Last month, Abe explained on TV that the secrets law is aimed at agents, terrorists, and spies — that it’s not related to ordinary people. In the same interview, he added that he’d step down if the law were ever used to control the media or film industry.
However, Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano observers that that is precisely what the law is intended to do — that the law is coming into effect just as Abe appears to seek greater influence over the nation’s media.
“This is really too much,” said Hisako Ueno, another protester. “It seems to allow Abe to do virtually anything by saying ‘it’s for the good of the country’ without anybody knowing what they are actually doing.”