U.N. human rights chief joins chorus urging secrecy law safeguards

Kyodo

The top U.N. human rights official urged Japan on Monday to heed public concerns raised at home and abroad over a bill to toughen penalties for leakers of state secrets.

“I would encourage the government and the legislature to hear national and international concerns,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay told journalists in Geneva. Pillay said that two U.N. experts on freedom of expression and the right to health recently voiced serious concerns about the law for failing to live up to human rights standards.

“Some of the concerns are that there is not sufficient clarity as to what constitutes a secret,” Pillay said, adding that it “allows the government to designate any inconvenient information as secret.”

Pillay urged lawmakers not to “rush through the law without first putting in proper safeguards for the rights to access to information and freedom of expression as guaranteed in Japan’s Constitution and international human rights law.”

The proposed law — which cleared the Lower House last week and was likely to be approved by the upper chamber sometime this week — would designate certain sensitive information within the government as “special secrets” and impose penalties of up to 10 years in prison for those who leak it.

Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tried to dispel public concern after the Lower House vote, domestic opposition to the controversial bill has surged.