Protests over secrets bill fiery at 11th hour

Nuclear foes key component of public anger

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Protests over the contentious state secrets bill continued Friday with unabated vigor even as its passage by the Diet appeared imminent.

As if to dovetail with the rising tone of criticism on the street, many citizens’ groups issued statements blasting the bill.

Kenji Yamagishi, president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, expressed displeasure Thursday with the way the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe-led government has brushed aside deep public concerns to ram the bill through the Diet.

The lawyer group, Yamagishi said, will do its utmost to prevent the “dangerous bill from infringing on people’s human rights,” according to media reports.

Shimbun Roren, a combination of more than 80 newspaper labor unions, meanwhile issued a statement Thursday slamming the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc’s “despicable act.”

Noting the bill will enable the government to designate state secrets at will, it voiced concern that “merely seeking secret information” could subject journalists to punishment.

“If the law is enacted, the international community will no doubt condemn Japan as restricting its people’s right to know and their freedom,” it said.

Organized by several citizens’ groups and labor unions, a hodgepodge of strident protests outside the Diet attracted an impressive turnout for the past few days, standing at an estimated 30,000 Thursday night. A 51-year-old participant, who only gave his last name, Yoshida, predicted the turnout would likely be similar, or possibly even larger, toward Friday evening.

Describing himself as an active opponent of nuclear power, Yoshida said he joined a spate of anti-nuclear protests after the Fukushima crisis started in 2011. The unprecedented catastrophe prompted many worried citizens to take to street protests for the first time, himself included, Yoshida said.

“Back then, people were still uncertain of what they were doing,” he said.

But now, with nuclear foes being a main component of the protests over the secrets bill, “They have grown more confident in speaking out, and scrutinizing what the government is doing,” he said.

Another regular participant of mass demonstrations, 61-year-old Susumu Abe, said he thinks “doing nothing” is no different than agreeing with the government.

Under the current system, “it’s only when we vote that we can convey our opinions to the government,” Abe said angrily.

Now that the bill appears set for passage by the Upper House, he added: “What I can’t stand most is just sitting back and accepting what happens. I want to do the best I can until the end.”