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[Newsmaker] Japan enacts strict state secrets law

Japan has enacted a state-secrets law toughening penalties for leaks, despite public protests and criticism that it will muzzle the media and help cover up official misdeeds.

The full upper house approved the bill Friday by 130 to 82. The more powerful lower house passed the bill the previous week.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the law was needed to ensure the smooth operation of a new National Securities Council and to persuade foreign countries such as the U.S. to share intelligence.

In Washington, U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said that information security played a critical role in the alliance and that the U.S. welcomed progress “on strengthening policies, practices and procedures related to the protection of classified information.”

Media, publishers, lawyers and even entertainers have denounced the bill, which drastically expands the definition of state secrets and for some has echoes of Japan’s harsh authoritarian regime before and during World War II.

Critics worry the law could be used to hinder public disclosures, punish whistleblowers or muzzle the media.

It allows heads of ministries and agencies to classify 23 vaguely worded types of information related to defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism, almost indefinitely.

The law mandates prison terms of up to 10 years for government officials who leak secrets. Journalists who get information in an “inappropriate” or “wrong” way could be jailed for up to five years. It bans attempted leaks, inappropriate reporting, complicity and solicitation.

The law was condemned Saturday as “the largest ever threat to democracy in postwar Japan” by a group of 31 academics.

In a strongly worded attack on the new law, the scholars, including Nobel Prize winners Toshihide Maskawa and Hideki Shirakawa, accused the Japanese government of threatening “the fundamental human rights and pacifist principles” enshrined in the country’s constitution. The statement was endorsed by 3,150 more academics

More than 250 film celebrities, including animation directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, along with journalists, researchers, lawyers and other influential figures, had appealed to people to make every effort to block the law.

(From news reports)