U.N. rights panel questions Japanese media freedom and state secrets law


Some United Nations members voiced concerns over press freedom in Japan on Tuesday at a meeting of a working group of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

It was the first time since October 2012 that the group had held a meeting to review the rights situation in Japan, and issues related to press freedom were brought up for the first time.

The United States called on Japan to establish an independent media supervisory institution, saying it is worried about the current regulatory framework, including the Broadcast Act, which gives the government authority to stop broadcasts.

Australia and Brazil also showed concern over the level of media independence, and over the state secrecy law.

Japan responded by saying the government has never exerted undue pressure on the media.

In a report released in May, the U.N. special rapporteur on the freedom of expression, David Kaye, urged Japan to revise the Broadcast Act and the state secrets law.

Under that law, which went into force in December 2014, information that could substantially harm Japan’s security if leaked is designated for protection as special state secrets. Those who leak designated information could face prison terms of up to 10 years.

In the U.N. council’s Universal Periodic Review, the human rights situations of all 193 U.N. member countries are reviewed.

The ongoing review is the third for Japan. The first was carried out in May 2008.

At Tuesday’s meeting, South Korea, North Korea and China repeated concerns over the issue of women who were forced to serve at military brothels before and during World War II.

In addition, many countries — mainly in Europe — called on Japan to abolish the death penalty.

Recommendations on Japan will be drawn up on Thursday based on discussions at the working group and are expected to be adopted at a Human Rights Council meeting next March.