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Protesters, Journalists Speak Out Against Japan's National Secrecy Bill

Protest against Japan's Secrecy Law

Screenshot from the live stream of the protest against the Secret Information Protection Act on November 21, 2013. Demonstrators chant, “No to secrecy law, protect the constitution.”

Thousands of people marched in Hibiya Park in Tokyo in protest of a bill that stiffens penalties for leaking classified information that could jeopardize national security. The bill has been lambasted by critics who fear it could hinder freedom of the press and the right to information.

Representatives from human rights groups, labor unions, the Japanese Communist party, and concerned citizens joined the protest on November 21. According to the organizer [ja], 7,000 people participated in the march to demand the withdrawal of the bill.

The bill would introduce harsher punishments for leaking national secrets in related to defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism, and counter-espionage, but it remains unclear how the so-called Secret Information Protection Act would define what is a “national secret”. 

The day before the march, a group of journalists organized a press conference in Tokyo to publicly object to the bill. Journalist and critic Soichiro Tahara spoke [ja] at the gathering:

私たちが普段やっている取材では、オフレコ取材、共謀、教唆などあたりまえ。この法律で“不当な取材”とされたら10年の懲役刑を喰らう。これでは報道は萎縮してしまう。これは危険きわまりない法律で、とんでもない

The job of journalists like us commonly involves off-the-record news gathering…If the bill is put into force, our job of reporting could be considered an act of inappropriate reportage, and we could face ten years in prison. This would make journalists wither. A bill like this is nothing but dangerous, and truly absurd. 

Journalists criticize Secret Information Protection Act

Journalists criticize the Secret Information Protection Act at a press conference held in Tokyo on November 20, 2013. Image captured by Labornet Japan

Article 19, a London-based organization concerned with freedom of expression, also condemns the bill:

ARTICLE 19 urges the Japanese National Diet (Japanese Parliament) to reject the pending Special Secret Protection Bill. The bill violates international standards on freedom of expression and the right to information.

 

On the Internet, a number of users mentioned the bill. According to social media analytics, more than 370,000 tweets mentioned the bill during the week of the protest. Users published their messages under the hashtag “Demolish the Secrecy Act”(#秘密保護法をブッ潰せ) to express their sentiments against the proposed law. 

Aside from the danger that the bill poses for access to information and freedom of expression, a pseudonymous lawyer known as “K” pointed out in an article [ja] on Weekly Playboy that foreign spies might not be subject to the penalties of leaking information:

このままでは日本ばかりが外国の機密を守る義務が生じて、日本の機密は他国に奪われ放題という悲惨な状態に陥ってしまうと思います……

I think, ultimately, the law would only obligate Japan to protect secret information potentially designated as such by foreign countries, while Japan's national secrets can be spied on and obtained by other countries, which would be a terrible situation.

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