Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a news conference on Dec. 9 — three days after his Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner New Komeito enacted the state secrets law in the Upper House’s plenary session (night of Dec. 6) — that he will explain in detail the law in order to assuage people’s fears about it. The law is to be promulgated today.
He also said that the scope of secrets will not go beyond that currently defined by the government and that the law will never threaten people’s ordinary lives.
Abe must have been taken aback by the public’s strong criticism of the law. According to a Kyodo News poll, 54.1 percent of respondents said the law should be revised in the next ordinary Diet session in 2014, 28.2 percent said it should be scrapped completely, and 70.8 percent felt uneasy about the law.
When such a large portion of the public agrees on anything, the government should listen. Apparently because the law was forced through the Diet without sufficient debate or consideration, the approval rating for Abe’s Cabinet has fallen 10.3 points since last month to 47.6 percent — the lowest since it formed in December 2012. The disapproval rating surged to 38.4 percent, up 12.2 points.
People should not be duped by Abe’s misleading rhetoric. The simple fact is that whatever explanations he may give about the law, its content and nature will not change now that the law has been enacted. If Abe wants to give detailed explanations about the law, why did his administration not set aside enough time for thorough Diet deliberations? If it had done so, more problems about the law would have been exposed to the public’s eyes.
According to lawyer Yuichi Kaido, it was only at 11:45 a.m. on Dec. 5 that the Abe administration disclosed a 92-page clause-by-clause description by the prime minister’s secretariat of the law at the request of former Social Democratic Party chief Mizuho Fukushima. This omission on the part of the administration clearly shows how it makes light of a democratic process based on thorough discussions.
The Abe administration made 11th-hour proposals to set up oversight bodies. But they will be made up of bureaucrats and will not have power to examine the content of each specific designated secret. Abe said that transparency concerning designation of secrets will be secured, but he gives no evidence to back up his argument.
Abe’s contention that the scope of secrets will not expand is a smokescreen. It conceals the fact that under the law, heads of administrative bodies have discretionary power to designate information related to security, diplomacy, counterintelligence and anti-terrorism as special secrets without effective, third-party independent oversight — thus virtually without limits.
In this connection, what the standing committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan pointed out in its protest statement is important. It said that while information disclosure is the basis of democratic decisions, the law, whose definition of special secrets is extremely wide and vague, will put the administrative branch of government above the Diet, which under the Constitution is “the highest organ of state power” and “the sole lawmaking organ of the state.” And the law will carry the danger of limiting the Diet’s “right to conduct investigations related to government” as guaranteed by the Constitution, thus threatening the constitutional principle that “sovereign power resides with the people.”
As the committee also pointed out, there is a danger that the defense minister will designate as special secrets the Self-Defense Forces’ use of weapons and joint military missions with the United States in foreign countries — actions prohibited by the Constitution — thus undermining the constitutional no-war principle.
Abe’s contention that the law will never threaten people’s ordinary lives is also groundless. Under the law, people could be accused of “conspiracy” for discussing whether to approach government officials for information that happened to have been designated as special secrets, or accused of “incitement” for just asking officials to release such information.
The law’s definition of terrorism is so wide that state authorities could regard as acts of terrorism political, civic and other activities by citizens aimed at persuading the government and other organizations or people to consider their opinions or demands, and thus monitor, investigate or suppress their activities even before such activities become public.
It cannot be overly emphasized that the law undermines freedom of the press, people’s right to know and freedom of expression.
Kaido, the lawyer, noted that Frank La Rue, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay regard the law as running counter to Article 19 of the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1996, to which Japan is a party. The article in part says, “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
Kaido’s call for attention to the covenant is important because it explains in a concrete manner what constitutes freedom of expression as well as refers to concrete methods people can employ in order to express their views and opinions.
The definition of terrorism in the state secrets law includes this phrase: “activities that force political and other principles or opinions on the state and other people.” One can clearly see that a loose interpretation of this definition could be used to suppress people’s attempts to express their views and opinions through various means, thus violating Article 19 of the covenant.
The secrets law is moving in exactly the wrong direction. As Kaido points, the law does not include any provisions to protect whistle-blowers. Whistle-blowers acting out of conscience should not be restricted, but rather given a larger public forum and stronger protection under the law. The fear that if the law takes effect, information about problems at nuclear power plants will not come out seems tenable.
December 6, 2013, should be remembered as the day that the LDP and New Komeito enacted a law that could undermine not only the freedom of press and expression but also other various constitutional principles.
Citizens, realizing that the law is based on a shaky and feeble legal foundation, should use various means available such as sending letters to lawmakers, issuing statements, making speeches, organizing study meetings and taking part in demonstrations to make clear that they will not accept the revival of some falsely glorified past in which Abe seems to believe — a past in which the Japanese public was deprived of the right to know what the government was doing.
Repealing the secrets law is indispensable for ensuring that Japan remains an open society with its democratic principles fully upheld.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.