The Abe administration moved quickly to quash a potential pitfall to a controversial secrecy bill before the Diet, defusing a ruling party executive’s remarks equating loud protests to the legislation with terrorism.
“Demonstrations are (guaranteed under) freedom of speech as long as they are staged within the scope of laws and regulations,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a meeting of the Upper House special committee on national security on Dec. 2.
Shigeru Ishiba, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, criticized demonstrations against the state secrets protection bill in his blog on Nov. 29, saying screaming tactics used by protesters differ little from an act of terrorism. Although he defended his comparison in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun on Nov. 30, Ishiba relented the next day.
Speaking in Toyama Prefecture on Dec. 1, he apologized for putting noisy protests on par with terrorism and retracted that part of his statements.
In his blog post titled “apology and correction” on Dec. 2, Ishiba said, “Orderly demonstrations and assemblies are desirable for democracy, regardless of the case they are held for.”
He changed his original entry to “screaming tactics appear to be different from what methods of genuine democracy should be.”
At a meeting of government and coalition officials on Dec. 2, Ishiba apologized for making “inappropriate” remarks while the Upper House is deliberating the bill.
“We will continue to offer careful explanations to dispel anxieties and concerns on the part of the public,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. “I ask for your efforts to enact the bill during the current Diet session.”
The prime minister’s office and the ruling LDP-New Komeito coalition plan to enact the bill with an Upper House vote before the current Diet session closes on Dec. 6.
The bill will toughen penalties against civil servants who leak "specified secrets" that could jeopardize Japan's national security. Critics say the scope of secrets to be protected, which includes issues on the prevention of terrorism, is loosely defined and may allow for broad interpretation.
The bill’s proponents were particularly worried that Ishiba’s comments may be seen as substantiating such concerns.
“Critics might ask, 'Will demonstrations around the Diet building be included in specified secrets?' ” a government source said.
Masako Mori, minister in charge of the bill, ruled out such a possibility during the Upper House committee session on Dec. 2.
“Citizens’ demonstrations do not fall under the category of terrorism covered by the bill,” she said.
A senior LDP official also downplayed such concerns, saying, “By any means, citizens’ demonstrations cannot be regarded as acts of terrorism, which refer to injuring and killing people.”
But Ishiba’s remarks provided ready ammunition for the Democratic Party of Japan, an opponent to the secrecy bill.
“Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression so that citizens without power can express their opinions to government,” DPJ Secretary-General Akihiro Ohata said. “Demonstrations of protest and acts of terrorism are as different as night and day.”
Tetsuro Fukuyama, a DPJ director of the Upper House special committee on national security, criticized the LDP.
“The LDP is trying to discard the minimum means required for democracy, such as the people’s right to know and freedom of expression,” Fukuyama said.
The Japan Restoration Party and Your Party were equally scathing about the flap, although they support the bill.
“(Ishiba’s) remarks are incomprehensible when the public is worried that the scope of specified secrets may be overstretched,” said Yorihisa Matsuno, secretary-general of the caucus of Japan Restoration Party Diet members. “All opposition parties will work together and address the issue at the Diet.”
Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe labeled Ishiba’s comments as “inappropriate.”
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