The Liberal Democratic Party has issued a document containing rebuttals to newspaper articles that criticized the state secrets law. The arguments and explanations in the document are far from convincing.

There is a strong possibility that LDP lawmakers will use the document to try to persuade voters to accept the secrecy law, which was railroaded through the Diet on Dec. 6 by the LDP and its coalition partner, New Komeito.

The public must not be misled by the LDP document and those who use it to justify the law.

The LDP document, which was distributed on Dec. 13 to LDP Diet members, contains rebuttals to 23 newspaper reports and editorials carried by three major newspapers — the Asashi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun and Tokyo Shimbun.

As one of its main points of rebuttal, the LDP denies that the heads of administrative bodies can designate an unlimited amount of government information as special secrets. The law allows such heads to designate information related to security, diplomacy, counter-intelligence and counterterrorism as special secrets. If government officials who handle designated secrets leak them, they can be punished by up to 10 years in prison.

People who “conspire,” “incite” or “instigate” in the leaking of designated secrets in order to promote the interests of foreign countries or themselves, or to damage the security of the nation or the “lives or bodies” of Japanese nationals can be sentenced to up to five years in prison — even if the secrets in fact have not been leaked to them.

The LDP says that because the heads of administrative bodies designate as special secrets only those categories of information cited in the list attached to the law, and because the prime minister sets down a standard for designation of secrets, it is impossible for the scope of secrets to expand without limit or for secrets to be designated arbitrarily.

The phrase “scope of secrets,” however, is ambiguous and misleading. It should be interpreted to mean that this phrase refers to the categories of information that can be designated as secrets. The important point about the LDP’s explanation is that it does not say that the amount or number of secrets will not expand.

It also must be noted that the categories cited in the list are so wide and vague that the government can designate an unlimited amount of information, including vital information that must be shared by people, as special secrets.

Attention must be paid to the fact that in the area of diplomacy, the list uses very vague language.

The list includes “negotiations with foreign governments or international organizations, or policy or content of cooperation” that is important in relation to protection of Japanese nationals’ “lives or bodies,” maintenance of territories and “other” security-related matters.

This provision could enable the government to conduct secret diplomacy and make diplomatic decisions in security-related areas that will greatly affect the fate of the nation.

In the area of security, the categories covered by the list include plans, estimates and studies related to operations of the Self-Defense Forces and improvement of the nation’s defense capabilities; types and quantities of weapons and ammunition; capabilities and ways of production and uses of weapons and ammunition in the development stage, and designs and capabilities of defense-related facilities.

Therefore, the defense minister would be able to designate almost all information related to defense and the SDF as special secrets if he wishes to do so.

In a related rebuttal, the LDP denies that bureaucrats will hide a large amount of government information by designating it as special secrets. The LDP argues that this would be impossible because bureaucrats will make judgments on the basis of a guideline written by an advisory body on information maintenance. But this body will not have power to check whether the designation of specific secrets is justifiable.

In addition, the body will be composed of people from within the government and bureaucracy. Thus there is a strong possibility that bureaucrats will designate an unlimited amount of information as special secrets and ask the heads of administrative bodies to rubber-stamp the designation.

In saying that a newspaper report that states neither the Diet nor the judiciary can check the operation of the law is wrong, the LDP explains that under certain conditions, the government would disclose designated secrets to the Diet for discussions by lawmakers.

But there are no explanations as to what these “certain conditions” would be, thus increasing the possibility that the Diet will have no access to important information.

The LDP denies the possibility that the law will be used to arrest citizens who strongly voice their opinions through civic movements on suspicion of having engaged in acts of terrorism.

The LDP’s contention is based on its own interpretation of the definition of terrorism provided by the law and fails to take into consideration the possibility that a phrase in the law’s section dealing with the definition of terrorism — “activities that force political and other principles or opinions on the state and other people” — could be used as a sufficient definition of terrorism and thus to suppress civic movements by means of stretched interpretation.

The public should pay attention to the government’s explanation during Diet deliberations that designated secrets will not be presented to court trial hearings as evidence if someone is indicted on a charge of violating the state secrets law, on the grounds that disclosing the secrets in hearings runs counter to the law’s principle of safeguarding secrets.

The LDP document asserts that some newspapers are stirring up public anxiety by disseminating disinformation on the state secrets law. But it sheds no light on the law’s many grave problems.

Its failure to answer legitimate questions raised by the media and ordinary citizens reinforces the case for repealing the law.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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