National / Crime & Legal

Tokyo cancels U.N. freedom of expression expert's visit; supporters cite secrecy law scrutiny

Kyodo

A U.N. expert in charge of freedom of expression said Thursday that the Japanese government has canceled the visit he was scheduled to make next month.

David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, told Kyodo News he hopes he “can continue to work with the (Japanese) government” and that he has always had good interactions with it.

The rare cancellation of the official visit drew criticism that the Japanese government is trying to hinder him from raising such issues as the secrecy law, which is aimed at preventing the leak of state secrets.

Under the contentious law, which took effect last year, civil servants and others who leak designated secrets will face up to 10 years in prison, and those who “instigate” leaks — including journalists — will face prison terms of up to five years.

“We will rearrange the schedule because we couldn’t make full preparations to accept the visit due to budget compilation and other reasons,” said a bureaucrat in the Foreign Ministry.

“The government has said that they wanted to postpone the visit until the autumn,” Kaye said. The ministry declined to confirm the remark.

Kaye announced his plans to visit Japan from Dec. 1 to 8 at the Third Committee of the U.N. General Assembly in October. He planned to conduct hearings with bureaucrats, journalists and citizen activists about information disclosure regarding the secrecy law and other topics related to freedom of expression in Japan, according to Kaye and lawyer Yuichi Kaido, who planned to support him during his trip, said.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee expressed concerns about the secrecy law last year.

In response to Friday’s cancellation request, Kaye urged the Japanese government to reconsider. But Tokyo notified him of the decision again on Tuesday, Kaye said.

“Japan as a government and as a country is, generally speaking, very respectful of freedom of expression,” he said.

“We look at things that are worth celebrating, perhaps as a model that other countries could follow,” the special rapporteur said, adding, “We also identify areas where there might be some concerns.”

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