• Kyodo

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Japan has displayed an “intolerance of public criticism” with the introduction of a contentious new secrecy law, Amnesty International said Wednesday in its annual report for 2015.

The London-based rights group said the law on official secrets, which came into effect in December 2014, could “excessively restrict” the right to access information held by the authorities.

Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East Asia director, said Japan is showing “growing intolerance toward criticism and dissent.”

Critics of the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets claim public authorities could withhold information without giving a clear justification, according to the report.

Amnesty also raises concern about the lack of oversight of the new law and the threat to journalists trying to report on issues that are genuinely in the public interest. Jail terms for those leaking designated secrets could be up to ten years.

Elsewhere, the group said concerns continue to be raised at the fact that only 11 people out of more than 5,000 applicants in 2014 were granted refugee status in Japan.

The assessment also noted the ruling coalition’s opposition to implementing legislation prohibiting racial discrimination despite a recommendation from the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Regarding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Amnesty says he “expressed grief, but only referred to apologies made by former heads of government.”

On Japan taking responsibility for forcing Korean women into Japanese military brothels before and during the war, Amnesty said the deal between Seoul and Tokyo in December to end the dispute was criticized for failing to take into account the views and needs of the victims.

On a more positive note, the global organization welcomed moves by Shibuya Ward in Tokyo to acknowledge same-sex unions as equivalent to marriage. Registered same-sex partners will be offered legally nonbinding certification, and have visitation rights in hospitals and the ability to co-sign tenancy agreements.

Turning to global issues, Amnesty voiced concern that many governments have “brazenly broken” international law and are “deliberately” undermining institutions meant to protect people’s rights.

The group is warning of an “insidious and creeping trend” to undermine human rights coming from governments “deliberately attacking, underfunding or neglecting institutions that have been set up to help protect our rights.”

Amnesty claims that in 2015 more than 98 states tortured or otherwise ill-treated people, and 30 or more illegally forced refugees to return to countries where they would be in danger.

In at least 18 countries, war crimes or other violations of the “laws of war” were committed by governments or armed groups.

The report criticizes the United Nations for a “systemic failure” over its handling of the civil war in Syria that has led to “catastrophic human consequences.”

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