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Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita intervened in the appointments of members of a Council for Cultural Affairs subdivision in 2016, former vice education minister Kihei Maekawa said Tuesday.

Maekawa made the statement at a joint hearing by opposition parties over Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s controversial rejection of the appointments of six nominees recommended by the Science Council of Japan for membership. Suga was the chief Cabinet secretary at that time.

According to Maekawa, he was summoned by Sugita about a week after submitting a list of candidates for the subdivision around August 2016. Sugita told the then-vice minister to change two candidates.

“Sugita reprimanded me, saying, ‘It’s not good to appoint people who criticize the government,'” Maekawa said, adding that the education ministry replaced the two candidates.

Of the two, one was in the academic world and the other in the cultural field. Their activities included participation in a group of scholars opposing the controversial national security legislation and criticism of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to Maekawa.

The subdivision selects the winners of the Order of Culture and Persons of Cultural Merit. It is a branch of the council, which is under the jurisdiction of the ministry.

By convention, the ministry seeks approval from the Prime Minister’s Office on the appointments of the subdivision’s members beforehand as the appointments require Cabinet approval.

“The deputy chief Cabinet secretary can’t have made his own decision to reject the appointment plan, approved by the education minister,” said Maekawa.

“I think Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga was informed of the appointments and rejected them,” he added.

It was the first time candidates by the ministry were rejected, Maekawa said.

He also said that rejecting candidates critical of an administration does not make any sense.

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