Sengoku: SDF events not for open candor

Kyodo News

Freedom of speech has its limits at Self-Defense Forces-related facilities, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said Thursday, drawing further protests from opposition lawmakers concerned the Defense Ministry is increasingly engaging in censorship.

“Even if one is a civilian, (remarks) made inside the SDF facilities are to be restricted, because if that is not the case, there could be a misconception that SDF members were involved,” Sengoku told the Upper House Budget Committee.

The controversy started when the Defense Ministry issued a notice last week advising defense officials and top military brass not to invite guests who could make remarks of a political nature that could compromise the SDF’s neutrality, to SDF events.

Then, as opposition lawmakers pounced on the notice as a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of speech, the government took to defending it.

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said at the same Upper House panel session that he has no intention of retracting the notice.

The notice, drawn up in the name of the vice defense minister on Nov. 10, was issued after a guest speaker denounced Prime Minister Naoto Kan at a Nov. 3 air show at the Air Self-Defense Force’s Iruma base in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture.

“Let’s topple the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration soon,” the guest speaker said. “All of you must feel the same in your heart.”

During the Liberal Democratic Party’s National Defense Division meeting Thursday morning, the Defense Ministry also revealed it has notified service members and related organizations at the administrative level to document remarks made by civilian representatives at SDF-related events and submit a record to the document section of the ministry’s secretariat.

In addition, the ministry also unveiled the format of a letter for civilian representatives that asks them to refrain from making political remarks, which can compromise the SDF’s political neutrality.

Some within the SDF view these developments as countermeasures taken only because the administration was criticized.

Forces for ‘violence’

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku on Thursday referred to the Self-Defense Forces as an “instrument of violence,” providing opposition lawmakers with another opportunity to attack the administration.

Sengoku made the remark during the Upper House Budget Committee session in response to an opposition lawmaker’s question over the Defense Ministry’s recent notice to officials and SDF brass that effectively bars them from inviting to events any guest who could make political remarks, which can compromise the SDF’s political neutrality.

Asked about the difference of the political neutrality of SDF personnel and other public officials, Sengoku, the right-hand man of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, called for the need to adhere to the principle of civilian control, given that the SDF is an “instrument of violence” and “a kind of military organization.”

Sengoku later rephrased his expression to an “organization that uses force” and apologized to SDF personnel. Kan also plans to scold him.