The government of Shinzo Abe could create a secret state act described by the critics as a barrier against free access to information on a wide range of issues, including tensions with China and the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
If approved, the law would redefine the notion of official secrets; journalists who would break the new law could be sent to prison for up to five years.
“There is a demand by the established political forces for greater control over the people,” said Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University. “This fits with the notion that the state should have broad authority to act in secret.”
Outside Abe’s official residence, several dozen protesters gathered in the rain in a last-minute appeal against the move.
“We are resolutely against this bill. You could be subject to punishments just by revealing what needs to be revealed to the public,” one of the protesters said.
“Basically, this bill raises the possibility that the kind of information about which the public should be informed is kept secret eternally,” Tadaaki Muto, a lawyer and member of a task force on the bill at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, said.
“Under the bill, the administrative branch can set the range of information that is kept secret at its own discretion.”
If the new law will be approved, the public employees could be jailed for up to 10 years for leaks, while journalists who encourage such leaks could get up to five years in jail.
The government’s bill was opposed by 50.6 percent of respondents in the latest Kyodo News survey released Sunday, with support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet slipping to 60.7 percent.