On Dec. 10, the controversial state secrets law went into effect. Supported by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his right-wing Cabinet, large sections of the bureaucracy (especially the Foreign and Defense ministries), the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) and the police, and praised by a U.S. government furious at WikiLeaks and the revelations of Edward Snowden, the new law was condemned by virtually everyone else as one of the most serious threats to Japanese democracy in decades. Up to 80 percent of the public opposed the law, according to media polls in November and December last year.

Of particular concern — and relevance — to civil society are the sections of the law allowing for the classification of government efforts to prevent domestic “terrorism,” or “designated harmful activities.” What these will mean in practice is unknown. However, activists worry the new law will protect the state if it decides to crack down on any group that gathers in the streets, the public assembly hall or the Internet in protest of official policy. The country, they fear, is repeating the mistakes of the 1930s and heading toward fascism.

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