Japanese Proposed State Secret Law Undermines the Public’s Right to Know

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urgently calls for Japan’s government to reject a proposed state secret bill that will undermine the freedom of the press and the public’s right to know by giving government officials broad powers to block the release of sensitive information.

The "Designated Secrets Bill", currently under consideration by the Japanese Diet, if passed, would essentially give every cabinet ministry and major agency of the government the right to classify any information related to defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism as a state secret. 

Yet the bill provides no clear guideline as to what constitutes a secret. It lists "measures, plans and research to prevent terrorism" and “designated dangerous activities” as items that would be protected as state secrets and calls for up to 10 years imprisonment for people who "deceive others" or "intrude into facilities" and obtain protected secrets.

IFJ affiliates in Japan have strongly protested the bill’s passage. “The IFJ is gravely concerned about the passage of any law that gives government officials carte blanche to label sensitive documents secret rather than face the implications of their release to the public,” the IFJ Asia Pacific director, Jacqueline Park said.

“As well as a vague definition of what constitutes a secret, the introduction of hefty prison sentences for those investigating government actions appears to be direct attack on investigative journalism and whistle-blowers, and will no doubt impact communication between journalists and government officials.”

Until now, only the Japanese Defense Ministry has had the authority to classify information as a “defense secret” following a 2001 amendment to the country’s secrecy law. Yet of the 55,000 documents the ministry classified secret between 2006 and 2011, 34,000 were destroyed at the end of the secrecy period.

Only one was declassified for public release. The new law would allow the secrecy period to be extended indefinitely.

“In democratic societies, any law or regulation that grants government absolute power to keep information from the public should be treated with the highest caution,” Ms Park said.

The IFJ calls on the Japanese Diet to respect the principles of democracy by rejecting this bill.

“The core of investigative journalism is to shine light in dark places and inform the public about the activities of government,” Ms Park said. “Any law that allows a government the potential to prosecute journalists as they please must be condemned.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0950