Ishiba validates secrecy bill fears

On Nov. 29, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba criticized public demonstrations near the Diet building by those opposed to the state secrets bill. “I believe the tactics of simply shouting (opinions) at the top of one’s voice seems not so different from an act of terrorism in essence,” he wrote in his blog of that date.

In the apology and “correction” that he issued Dec. 2, Ishiba crossed out the phrase “not so different from an act of terrorism” in a manner that left it legible and added “different from the way a democratic method should be.” Obviously Ishiba intended his blog readership to understand that his original sentiment remained intact.

This episode shows that the LDP’s No. 2 official fails to understand the importance of protests and demonstrations as a fundamental democratic means for citizens to express their opinions and demands as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution, which in part says, “Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.”

Ishiba’s statement also has rekindled concerns over the definition of terrorism in the secrecy bill. The fear that the bill could be used to silence citizens who express political opinions or demands is clearly not groundless. Ishiba’s reaction to the demonstrations brought into sharp relief the danger of the bill and validated the fears of the bill’s opponents.

In specifying a procedure to qualify people for handling designated secrets, Article 12 of the bill provides for the examination of whether a person under consideration is linked to “designated harmful activities,” including spying, or has links to “terrorism.” The article’s definition of terrorism includes the following phrase: activities that force political and other principles or opinions on the state and other people. This is far more encompassing than the widely accepted definition of terrorism: The systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.

Under the government’s definition, it cannot be ruled out that state authorities would regard political, civic and other activities by citizens aimed at persuading the government and other organizations or people to consider opposing opinions or demands as acts of terrorism. It also suggests that the state would not hesitate to monitor, investigate or suppress their activities, even before such activities become public. And since information related to anti-terrorism activities may be designated as special secrets under the bill, such moves by the police and other government organizations would largely be shielded from scrutiny. Moreover, if someone learns of such actions by the state and leaks this information to others, they could face arrest.

All of this suggests that freedom of thought and conscience as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution will be in grave danger if the secrecy bill becomes law. The secrecy bill could give rise to a society in which citizens must live in constant fear that they could be placed under surveillance by the state at any time. While the secrecy bill has many flaws, the existence of Article 12 alone is sufficient reason to kill it.