Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, a staunch advocate of freedom of information during the Cold War, has remained mum on a government bill that critics say will compromise the people’s right to know.
“I will refrain from going into details because I am not in charge of the bill,” Tanigaki, 68, said at a news conference on Nov. 7.
He was asked about the state secrets protection bill, which will toughen penalties on public servants who leak “specified secrets” that could jeopardize Japan’s national security.
Tanigaki was succeeded as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year.
Tanigaki, a lawyer-turned-politician, expressed opposition to a similar bill that the LDP submitted to the Diet in 1985.
Under that legislation, dubbed the anti-espionage bill, those who leaked confidential defense secrets to foreign countries could have faced the death penalty.
The bill was scrapped after the public raised criticism that it would infringe on the right to know.
The LDP drew up a revised bill that reduced the maximum penalty to life imprisonment. It also said those engaged in publishing and journalism would not be punished for proper actions related to their professions.
In a statement released in 1986, Tanigaki, who was elected to the Lower House three years earlier, and 11 other young and mid-level LDP lawmakers criticized the revised bill.
“The public, as a sovereign, gathers and uses information on the government. As long as such acts are restricted as an exception, that right should not be unduly interfered with,” the statement read.
In 1987, Tanigaki contributed an article titled, “I am opposed to ‘anti-espionage bill,’” to Chuo Koron magazine.
“In principle, information on government affairs must be open to the public, a sovereign. It goes without saying that such information includes defense information,” the article said. “If penalties are to be imposed to protect secrets, people could unnecessarily restrain their activities unless (penalties) are limited carefully.”
Public opposition eventually forced the LDP to give up submitting the revised bill.
At a news conference on Oct. 25, Tanigaki was asked why he opposed the anti-espionage bill.
“I thought that (protection of secrets and freedom of information) were closely connected with each other and that it would be a mistake to seek only one of them,” he said.
Tanigaki said at the Nov. 7 news conference that Japan has made certain progress in freedom of information since the 1980s.
“In those days, the information disclosure system was virtually non-existent, but the situation has changed somewhat,” he said.
Takashi Mikuriya, a political scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, said he believes that Tanigaki, originally a liberal, is not happy with the state secrets protection bill.
“He has not openly supported (the bill), and that speaks for his thinking,” Mikuriya said. “I think he is waiting for a chance to express his opinion in the future.”
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