Friday 29 November 2013

New Secrecy Bill

Hi folks
There's a lot of controversy in Japan at the moment about new legislation which will impose a 10 year prison sentence on those who leak 'special secrets' concerning diplomacy, defence, counterterrorism or espionage. It's designed so Japan can share sensitive information with other countries but it was rushed through the Lower House on Tuesday and the Upper House on Thursday and people feel there hasn't been enough discussion. It's contentious because the definition of a 'special secret' (tokutei himitsu 特定秘密) is vague and there is as yet no independent checking body or system of appeal - the Prime Minister, of all people, is to decide what constitutes a 'special secret'. Information was to be declassified after 30 years (though extendable) but after discussions with the Restoration Party (Ishin no kai) that got changed to 60 years (with no extensions). 

The bill has drawn widespread protest from the press, citizens' groups, and the public at large. But for some reason there is a Fukushima connection that I can't quite fathom. The day before the bill was presented to the Lower House, last Monday 25 November, the lower house special committee held a public hearing in Fukushima city, the only such hearing in the whole country. Seven prominent people were asked to give their views. But what was the point when the bill went before the house and was passed the very next day? All seven people voiced concern because they are afraid information relating to the nuclear disaster could become classified. Mr Baba, Mayor of Namie in the exclusion zone, was outspoken. Immediately after the earthquake, he said, police and others appeared dressed in what he at the time thought were 'spacesuits'. The residents hadn't been told of any danger. Later they were told to evacuate but were given no information. People ended up travelling under the plume. The Japanese government did not disclose the SPEEDI data until May although other countries had made it public. No wonder he doesn't trust the government. He said on TV that if the storage dumps for nuclear waste were deemed a terrorist target, they could come under the new law. Obviously people here are very keen on preserving their 'right to know' about progress in decommissioning at Fukushima Daiichi. There are worries that workers at the plant won't be able to speak out or that evidence in court cases to do with nuclear plants won't be put forward because it's secret.

And why was Mori Masako, local MP, put in charge of this bill? She is indeed a lawyer, but an expert in consumer rights, and she currently serves as Minister in charge of the declining birth rate, consumer affairs, food safety and gender equality. Seems odd.
All the best

1 comment:

  1. A delicate balance between national security and freedom of information- but I think it is absolutely right to be sceptical re this- especially where links between political reputations, government and business may no stand up to scrutiny