Passed a year ago by the Japanese parliament, the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets (SDS) provides for sentences of up to 10 years in prison for whistleblowers who leak “state secrets” and for journalists and bloggers who report information they obtained “illegally” or sought from whistleblowers.
The new law is also dangerous because of the vagueness of the criteria used for classifying information as a “state secret” and the lack of transparency with which the government is allowed to act.
Reporters Without Borders supports the legal action taken by a group of 43 independent journalists – led by Yu Terasawa, a freelancer and Reporters Without Borders “Information Hero” – in an attempt to get the law overturned on the grounds of unconstitutionality.
In a statement released on 10 December (see below), the journalists said they are also now trying to rally a majority of parliamentarians in the Japanese Diet in an attempt to get the law repealed.
As well as arguing that the law is unconstitutional, they point out that the government pushed it through parliament a year ago regardless of strong public opposition and then, in October, ignored 24,000 online comments critical of the enforcement order and implementation guidelines.
“This law clearly violates Japan’s constitution,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of he Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “By refusing to recognize the existence of the principle of general interest and by flouting the public’s right of access to information, Prime Minster Shinzo Abe’s government is taking Japan back 50 years.
“What if the nuclear power issue and the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster were classified, or if the government wanted to cover up a case of corruption? There is no provision for oversight of the government and the size of the possible jail terms would deter most journalists from investigating a classified subject.”
Ismaïl added: “We urge the government to repeal this draconian law as the group of 43 independent Japanese journalists have requested.”
Protests were already organized when the law was adopted in 2013. Another one was organized on 10 December outside the office of the prime minister, who claimed on 18 November that the law was concerned only with spying and terrorism, and not matters of general interest.
Japan is ranked 59th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
(Photo : Makiko Segawa)
Statement by Japanese journalists about the legal action:
Tokyo Legal Action on Unconstitutionality of “The Secrets Law”
December 10th, 2014
Plaintiff’s Group and Legal Team for The Secrets Law Legal Action
Today, December 10th, the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, or “The Secrets Law”, is enforced.
We have been taking legal action to try to stop enforcement of the law, due to its unconstitutionality. The enforcement of the law will not put an end to our efforts. In the days to come, we will continue our court challenge and attempt to win the case, and furthermore we are going to take stronger actions to insist on abolishment of the law.
“The Secrets Law” was passed forcibly last December, ignoring public opinion. Opinion polls conducted just after the enactment of the bill showed the majority of people were against it.
Then in October this year, the government ignored 24,000 public comments on the enforcement order and guidelines of “the Secrets Law”. Even though the enforcement order and guidelines still have significant issues such as vague designation criteria, they were endorsed by the Cabinet.
Bad laws are normally exposed over time, as their interpretation and implementation are extended. However, “the Secrets Law” has been contrary to the principle of the sovereignty of the people since the beginning.
The immediate concern after the enforcement of the law is the arbitrary designation of secrets by the government, with the accompanying erosion of the “freedom of the press” and people’s “right to know”.
Furthermore, under Prime Minister Abe with his slogan of “Take Back Japan” and in the name of “the right of collective self-defense”, “the Secrets Law” will be a key in creating a regime “able to go war”.
A lot of information will be hidden under the cloak of the Secrets Law, and we can predict authorities will abuse power without oversight by the people. For instance, there is even the possibility of creating an autocratic regime outside the constitution, similar to the “Enabling Act” established in Germany under the Nazi regime.
To ensure this does not happen, we have to protect Japan’s constitution which advocates the sovereignty of the people, pacifism, and respect for fundamental human rights, and we must abolish the mistake that is “the Secrets Law”.
It is never too late, even after the enforcement of the law. If a majority of Diet members are in favor, we can abolish the “Secrets Law” at any time. In addition to our legal action, we plaintiffs are going to do our best to work with fellow concerned citizens throughout Japan and the world to promote movements and public opinion for abolishment of this law.