Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga faced backlash Friday after he decided not to appoint academics who have been critical of the nation’s security and anti-conspiracy legislation to a science council that makes policy recommendations to the government.
Takaaki Kajita, 61, who was selected Thursday to head the Science Council of Japan (SCJ), suggested at the council’s general meeting Friday submitting a letter of request to the prime minister asking him to make clear the reasons for the rejection and appoint the six nominees.
It is the first time since the current nomination system was introduced in 2004 that the council’s nominees to join the body were rejected.
Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii highlighted the unprecedented move during a news conference on Thursday. The rejection was first reported by the JCP’s newspaper, Akahata.
A law on the SCJ stipulates that the council nominate new members, who are appointed by the prime minister.
“The rejection of the nominations is against the SCJ law, and is unconstitutional as it violates academic freedom guaranteed under Article 23 of the Constitution,” Shii said, demanding the prime minister revoke the decision.
“We cannot overlook this if there was political intent, such as using (scientists’) stances against certain bills to determine” appointments, said Jun Azumi, parliamentary affairs chief of the major opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
CDP leader Yukio Edano, Shii and two other heads of opposition parties agreed Thursday to grill the prime minister over the issue.
Of the six nominees, Ryuichi Ozawa, professor at the School of Medicine at Jikei University; Masanori Okada, professor at the Graduate School of Law at Waseda University; and Takaaki Matsumiya, professor at the School of Law at Ritsumeikan University, released a joint statement Thursday urging the council to make full efforts to reverse the prime minister’s rejection.
The three professors attended an online hearing Friday held by the opposition parties, with Okada saying the latest decision would bring about “a large distortion in future academic study,” adding that the procedures should be conducted based on the law.
Ozawa said it was “a big infringement of academic freedom,” while Matsumiya said rejection of appointments without clear reasons “produces constitutional doubts.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato defended Suga’s decision at a news conference Thursday, saying “it is legally possible to exercise a certain level of supervision mainly through personnel appointments.”
“It does not immediately lead to a violation of academic freedom,” he added.
Keiichi Ishii, secretary-general of Komeito, the coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said Friday, “It might be difficult to explain the whole picture (regarding why the appointments were rejected), but I want the government to explain as comprehensively as possible.”
In 2017, Matsumiya criticized the revised Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds, commonly referred to as the anti-conspiracy law, as “the worst postwar security legislation.”
Ozawa, in 2015, expressed opposition to Japan’s new security laws, warning that the laws could lead to the country “exercising its right to collective self-defense without limit.”
Okada has previous issued a statement criticizing the government regarding reclamation works in an area off the Henoko coastal district in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, underway as part of efforts to relocate operations of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan in Okinawa.
The three other academics who were not named are professors Shigeki Uno and Yoko Kato of the University of Tokyo and Sadamichi Ashina of Kyoto University.
The Science Council of Japan was established in January 1949 for the purpose of promoting and enhancing the field of science, and having science reflected in government, industries and people’s lives. With some 210 members and 2,000 associates, it makes policy recommendations to the government and public.