Opposition lawmakers on Wednesday ratcheted up calls for beleaguered Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda to step down amid allegations he sought to stifle Diet debates on a contentious anti-conspiracy bill by manipulating media.
At the heart of the furor is an unprecedented statement distributed to Japanese media at the urging of Kaneda on Monday suggesting that any Diet debate on the proposed legal revision to make conspiracy to commit terrorism a criminal offense should be withheld until the amendment is officially submitted to the current legislative session.
Lawmakers from the main opposition Democratic Party denounced the statement as an attempt to “manipulate” the perception of the amendment and called for Kaneda’s resignation, citing his lack of qualification for the post.
“That the Justice Ministry systematically drew up such a statement and attempted to steer parliamentary debate to its own advantage through the manipulation of media is a dangerous attempt to deprive the Diet of its crucial purpose, which is to supervise what the government does,” DP lawmaker Takeshi Shina told a Lower House Budget Committee.
“You should resign immediately.”
On Wednesday, Diet affairs chiefs from four opposition parties — the DP, Japanese Communist Party, Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party — agreed to petition Kaneda for his resignation.
“We believe Mr. Kaneda sorely lacks suitability as minister,” Kazunori Yamanoi of the DP told reporters.
For his part, Kaneda, who publicly apologized for and retracted the statement on Tuesday, acknowledged that his action was “inappropriate.” He said he drew up the statement to “keep track of my train of thought” on the controversial amendment.
“I will continue to sincerely fulfill my duty,” Kaneda said Wednesday, rejecting calls for his resignation.
Kaneda’s distribution of the document came after days of relentless grilling in the Diet from opposition lawmakers on the move to criminalize conspiracy to commit terrorism.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has touted the amendment, which seeks to penalize crime syndicates for plotting and preparing acts of terrorism, as essential to ensuring Japan’s public safety ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Critics, however, say the revision to the organized crime law could result in an abuse of power by police.
Since the ordinary Diet session began last month, Kaneda, who was appointed Justice Minister in last August’s Cabinet reshuffle, has frequently fumbled for answers regarding the amendment, at times bringing Diet debate to a halt.
“The minister must have been worried about media reports claiming his remarks (over the bill) have flip-flopped,” said a senior Justice ministry official. “But it only offered opposition parties more ammunition.”
Indeed, the document made Kaneda the target of even harsher criticism from both within and outside the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
“What you did is essentially conspire to commit an act of terrorism against the Diet,” the DP’s Shina said.
Adamant the minister’s act amounted to “unjust intervention in the media” and therefore seriously marred press freedom, the lawmaker called Kaneda unsuited to lead the Justice Ministry, which oversees the protection of fundamental human rights, including freedom of speech.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga revealed Wednesday that he had received a call from LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai voicing disapproval with Kaneda’s behavior.
“The government should straighten up more,” Suga quoted Nikai as saying.
Information from Kyodo added