State secrecy law stirs fear of freedom limits
Critics say move would further limit information
TOKYO | Japan’s more powerful lower house of Parliament approved a state secrecy bill late Tuesday that would impose stiff penalties on bureaucrats who leak secrets and journalists who seek them, despite criticism the government is making a heavy-handed effort to hide what it’s doing and suppress press freedom.
The public is concerned because the government won’t say exactly what becomes secret. Critics say the law could allow the government to withhold more information and undermine democracy.
The bill was approved after hours of delay due to protests by opposition lawmakers. The ruling bloc and its supporters hope the weaker upper house will pass the legislation next month.
The ruling party says the law is needed to encourage the U.S. and other allies to share national security information with Japan. With the creation of a U.S.-style National Security Council in his office, it is part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to strengthen Japan’s role in global security and create a more authoritarian government at home.
“This law is designed to protect the safety of the people,” Mr. Abe said, promising to relieve citizens’ concerns through further parliamentary debate.
The bill allows heads of ministries and agencies to classify 23 vaguely worded types of information related to defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism, almost indefinitely.
Critics say it might sway authorities to withhold more information about nuclear power plants, arguing they could become terrorist targets. They also warn that officials may refuse to disclose key elements of free trade talks to protect concessions that would make Tokyo or a partner look bad.
The move is welcomed by the U.S., which wants a stronger Japan to counter China’s military rise, but it raises fears in Japan that the country could be edging back toward its militaristic past, when authorities severely restrained free speech.