Japan’s lower house to pass secrecy bill amid public opposition


Japan’s lower house of parliament is widely expected to pass a bill next Tuesday that will empower the government to better secure sensitive information and state secrets as well as increase penalties for those who leak them, government officials confirmed Wednesday.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-led coalition, following negotiations with opposition parties, have agreed to make adjustment to the bill to secure its passage through the lower house, officials confirmed Wednesday.

The Japan Restoration Party had been insisting that state secrets remain classified for up to 30 years, with the ruling bloc pushing for secrets to remain classified for 60 years, except under special circumstances.

While talks are ongoing, it seems likely that a third body will be in charge of classifying or declassifying information, a concession that appeased the small opposition Japan Restoration Party, the officials said.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), however, is seeking to limit the scope of the new piece of legislation and would like it to only cover issues pertaining to intelligence- related secrets and those related to terrorism, it said.

However, with the ruling coalition holding the most clout in the lower house of parliament, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been keen to establish a broad consensus from opposition parties on the matter as public criticism of the proposed bill has been harsh.

In recent nationwide surveys, the new secrecy bill has been opposed by more than 50 percent of Japanese citizens, with just over 35 percent in favor of it.

Those not in favor of the bill are concerned that the new legislation will make it harder for the public to receive real or truthful information from a bureaucratic government already known for not freely conveying sensitive information — even if the information directly affects the well-being of the populace.

Pundits have pointed to the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan’s northeast as a poignant example of how and when the government decides to disseminate vital information to the public and the global community. On numerous occasions the government here has been lambasted by overseas nuclear bodies about their lack of communicativeness and, in some instances, concealment of key facts pertaining to the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

More than 80 percent of those polled in Japan believe there needs to be more inter-party deliberations on the bill before it is passed to parliament, but LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba has voiced his reluctance to extend the current Diet session to accommodate such requests.