Japan's State Secrets Bill Issues 'Threat to Democracy'

Critics warn legislation will have chilling effect on press freedoms

As thousands of protesters gathered outside of Japan's parliament for the second day in a row Friday, lawmakers officially enacted a controversial "state secrets" bill that will criminalize public officials, private citizens and journalists who leak information from the state.

Under the new law, which was pushed by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, public officials could face up to 10 years in prison for exposing "state secrets," which could include "sensitive information about the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the country's souring relations with China," as The Guardian reports. Journalists who seek out classified information could face up to five years.

"The chief criticism of the bill is its vague definition of what constitutes a state secret, potentially giving officials carte blanche to block the release of information on a vast range of subjects," The Guardian adds.

As Reutersnotes, "The passing of the law coincides with a worldwide debate on secrecy after former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents and a U.S. Army private leaked information to anti-secrecy group Wikileaks."

Critics say the bill will strangle media freedoms and help cover up wrongdoings inside of the government.

The bill's journey through Japan's parliament, the Diet, has been marked with public uproar and protest.

Over 30,000 protesters had gathered Thursday night as lawmakers "rammed legislation through the Upper House Special Committee on National Security," The Japan Times reports.

Following the bill's passage, a crowd formed throughout the day Friday and is expected to surpass Thursday's numbers.

"It is a threat to democracy," said Keiichi Kiriyama a journalist at the newspaper Tokyo Shimbun. The legislation will "have a chilling effect on public servants, who could become wary about giving the information," said Kiriyama.

"There is a demand by the established political forces for greater control over the people," said Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University. "This fits with the notion that the state should have broad authority to act in secret. It seems very clear that the law would have a chilling effect on journalism in Japan."


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