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Ishiba softens criticism of bill protesters

Vocal public not 'terrorists' but not in line with democracy

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba remained critical of public demonstrations Monday despite retracting part of an earlier comment likening protesters to terrorists, which drew fire from not only the opposition but also various corners of society.

“I saw a similarity between the (shouting) method to awe the general public and an act of terrorism. But I will rephrase my statement by saying that such a method is not in line with a proper democratic process,” Ishiba wrote in his latest blog post Monday.

Ishiba wrote there Friday that he believes “shouting one’s opinion at the top of one’s lungs” is not fundamentally different from “an act of terrorism.” Ishiba’s comments were directed at citizens demonstrating outside the prime minister’s office against the controversial state secrets bill.

Touching on his choice of words, Ishiba said, “I apologize for my reckless comment as an executive of the ruling party.”

Ishiba’s handling of the matter, however, is unlikely to dampen criticism.

In an apparent effort to put out the fire, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said staging demonstrations is a protected form of free speech guaranteed by the Constitution, provided protesters abide by the law.

“People are free to stage demonstrations as long as they follow the rules,” Suga said at a news conference. “The government has nothing more to say now that Ishiba has already acted to correct (his remarks).”

More than 1,000 people rallied against the state secrets bill on Nov. 26, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc rammed it through the Lower House. Demonstrations have been staged elsewhere around the country as the government moves ahead with plans to pass the bill into law by Friday, when the extraordinary Diet session is slated to close.

Even though Ishiba and Suga underlined the need for demonstrators to abide by the law, none has been arrested outside the prime minister’s office, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

Responding to a question from a Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker at the Upper House special committee on national security, Masako Mori, state minister in charge of the bill, repeated the government’s position Monday that public demonstrations will not be considered acts of terrorism.

Nevertheless, Tsutomu Shimizu of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations warned that provisions of the bill could be interpreted as allowing the government to deem political views as acts of terrorism. For example, demonstrators who demand information from someone with classified information could be considered instigators of a crime, and thus face up to five years in prison.

The security clearance stipulated in the bill could also give the government the authority to investigate officials’ political beliefs or punish anyone who tries to unveil such an investigation, Shimizu said.

“This means the resurgence of the so-called thought police,” Shimizu told a news conference Monday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

  • qwerty

    Kudos to the protesters – we need more of them. (Can I say that?)