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Japan bishops oppose tough new state secrets law

New government powers could "destroy democracy," bishops claim

Japan bishops oppose tough new state secrets law

Japanese parliament's Upper House (picture: SeanPavonePhoto/ correspondent, Tokyo

December 9, 2013

Japanese bishops are strongly protesting against a special secrets law that was passed on Friday by the country's Upper House despite widespread opposition.

The law introduces new penalties for those who leak secrets, along with expanded scope for the government to declare various matters to be state secrets.

In a statement on Saturday, the standing committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan warned the passage of the law through the House of Councilors could “destroy the foundation of democracy.”

The statement, addressed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, stressed that the law could jeopardize the three main principles of the Japan’s constitution, that sovereignty resides with the people, respect for basic human rights and pacifism.

Under the bill, public servants or others with access to state secrets could be jailed for up to 10 years for leaking classified data, according to a Reuters news report. Journalists and others in the private sector convicted of encouraging such leaks could get up to five years if they use "grossly inappropriate" means to solicit the information.

A coalition of the ruling Liberal Democrats and the New Komeito Party passed the bill despite opposition from other parties and polls that show a majority of Japanese oppose the law. The New Komeito is a political party based on a lay Buddhist movement. The announcement of the vote came as a surprise to opponents in parliament who expected further debate on the issue.

Many organizations, including the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and the Japan PEN Club, also issued statements against the law. On the day of the vote, about 15,000 people gathered in central Tokyo to protest against the legislation.

The bishops’ committee members stressed that “we strongly oppose these rough and ready votes and demand that the same mandatory votes will never be performed again.”

The prelates also expressed fear that information about nuclear plants might be hidden from the public.

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