FUKUSHIMA--The ruling Liberal Democratic Party invited Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba to speak about the state secrets protection bill, expecting support by a leader near the Fukushima nuclear disaster site to quell criticism against the legislation.
The party’s plan, however, backfired.
“I am afraid no clear bounds were established about what should be designated a state secret,” Baba told a hearing on the bill here on Nov. 25. He also said he cannot trust a government that tends to keep information under wraps.
In fact, all seven speakers at the hearing criticized the bill, saying its ambiguous wording leaves open the possibility of abuse and its harsh penalties could keep citizens in the dark about matters that directly affect their lives.
The ruling coalition, which railroaded the bill through a Lower House committee on Nov. 26, organized the hearing in the prefectural capital. Apart from speakers and politicians, only 50 members of the public could attend after obtaining admission tickets from Diet members.
Since the bill was submitted to the Lower House late last month, calls have grown for specific guidelines on what constitutes a state secret under the legislation.
But the ruling coalition and opposition parties failed to clearly define such state secrets in closed-door meetings and the debate at the Lower House’s special committee on national security.
The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tried to reassure leaders of Fukushima Prefecture that the designation of state secrets will not concern information about nuclear power plants.
But experts at the hearing agreed there is room for officials to stretch the bounds of the legislation, and that the government has already given contradictory views about nuclear plant information.
The LDP expected Baba to show an understanding to the necessity of the legislation. The ruling party noted that nuclear power plants are not specified in the bill.
But Baba instead mentioned the government’s bungling of information in the early stages of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.
The government failed to quickly release data from the computer-simulated System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI). Much like a weather map, the system shows the predicted spread of radioactive materials following an accident.
Lacking the SPEEDI information, many Namie residents fled toward areas of high radiation levels during the evacuation.
Residents in Fukushima Prefecture are particularly worried about the concealing of information under the legislation, in light of the water leaks and other problems at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, as well as the decommissioning process that is expected to take decades to complete.
“The general public is concerned about officials’ broad interpretation of state secrets,” said Yumiko Nihei, professor of law at Sakura no Seibo Junior College who was invited by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan to give her views at the hearing.
Nihei, who called for a halt to the bill, also said the government should respect the opinions of the public. The government solicited views from the public on its website in September. Of the 90,480 comments posted, 77 percent were opposed to the legislation.
Nobuyoshi Hatanaka, a professor of the Japanese Constitution at Iwaki Junior College, stressed the importance of the government having a well-informed public before making a crucial policy decision.
“Defense and diplomacy are the central government’s sole prerogative, but how can the central government facilitate the benefit for the public without keeping the public informed?” he said.
He spoke on the invitation of New Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner.
The bill lists four areas of protection for state secrets: defense, diplomacy, the prevention of harmful activities, such as spying, and the prevention of terrorist activities.
Hiroyasu Maki, vice chairman of the Fukushima Bar Association and a speaker at the hearing, said the government has varied its language about security measures concerning nuclear power plants.
“On one day the government says ‘routine security measures are not state secrets,’ whereas on another day it says ‘a security plan drawn up in response to tips on possible terrorist activities at potentially targeted nuclear power plants may be designated as state secrets,” he said.
Maki, invited to the hearing by the DPJ, said this occurred because the bill’s clauses are ambiguous and can cover a wide range of issues.
The government bill sets a maximum 10-year prison term for violators who leak state secrets. With no clear guidelines on what constitutes a state secret, potential whistle-blowers and journalists hoping to expose government corruption may back off to avoid arrest. That, in turn, could undermine the public’s right to know.
Kiyohiko Toyama, a New Komeito member of the Lower House, stressed at the hearing that legitimate news-gathering activities will not be punished.
He said “extremely unlawful acts” by journalists, as defined in the bill, include deception, assault, blackmail, property theft, intrusion and gaining illegal access.
Maki countered that reporters may be significantly discouraged from digging for the truth because the bill can allow investigative authorities to arbitrarily determine an “extremely unlawful act” in news gathering.
Mitsugi Araki, a lawyer invited to speak by the Japanese Communist Party, said the simple act of distributing fliers to residences could be punished as an unlawful intrusion under the legislation.
Even LDP members of the Fukushima prefectural assembly expressed concerns about the bill after the hearing.
The Fukushima prefectural assembly in October adopted a statement calling on the government and the Diet to proceed with caution in discussing the legislation.
After the hearing, Shoichi Kobayashi, an LDP assembly member, echoed the criticism that the scope of designated state secrets remains blurred.
“I’m afraid that the government and the Diet themselves have not had sufficient debate over that point,” he said.
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