Nearly three years later, Japan’s parliament is set to pass a new state secrecy bill that critics warn might make revealing such conversations impossible, even illegal. They say the law dramatically expands state power, giving every government agency and ministry the discretion to label restricted information “state secrets”. Breaching those secrets will be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.How does that affect information about the Fukushima disaster?
The Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, denies he is trying to gag the media or restrict the public’s right to know. “There is a misunderstanding,” he told Japan’s parliament today as the Lower House prepared to pass the bill (to be enacted on 6 December). “It is obvious that normal reporting activity of journalists must not be a subject for punishment.”
Few people outside the government, however, seem to believe him. The legislation has triggered protests from Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Journalists, the Federation of Japanese Newspapers Unions, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and many other media watchdogs. Academics have signed a petition demanding it be scrapped.
“It represents a grave threat to journalism because it covers such a wide and vague range of secrets,” said Mizuho Fukushima, a former leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party. She pointed out that the bill casts its net so wide it even includes a clause for “miscellaneous” secrets.
Inevitably, perhaps, debate on the new law has been viewed through the prism of the Fukushima crisis, which revealed disastrous collusion between bureaucrats and the nuclear industry. Critics say journalists attempting to expose such collusion today could fall foul of the new law, which creates three new categories of “special secrets”: diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage, in addition to defence.
During deliberations in November, Masako Mori, the minister in charge of the bill, admitted that security information on nuclear power plants could be designated a state secret because the information “might reach terrorists.” The designation would mostly be left to elite bureaucrats. [my bolding]Critics of the bill are vocal and raised concerns at a meeting in Fukushima:
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party invited Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba to speak about the state secrets protection bill, expecting support by a leader near the Fukushima nuclear disaster site to quell criticism against the legislation..........
The party’s plan, however, backfired.
“I am afraid no clear bounds were established about what should be designated a state secret,” Baba told a hearing on the bill here on Nov. 25. He also said he cannot trust a government that tends to keep information under wraps.
In fact, all seven speakers at the hearing criticized the bill, saying its ambiguous wording leaves open the possibility of abuse and its harsh penalties could keep citizens in the dark about matters that directly affect their lives.
Hiroyasu Maki, vice chairman of the Fukushima Bar Association and a speaker at the hearing, said the government has varied its language about security measures concerning nuclear power plants.
“On one day the government says ‘routine security measures are not state secrets,’ whereas on another day it says ‘a security plan drawn up in response to tips on possible terrorist activities at potentially targeted nuclear power plants may be designated as state secrets,” he said.