December 1, 2013
As criminal law experts have noted, a state secrets protection law looks conspicuously like the wartime National Defense Security Law, which came into force in May 1941 right before Japan started the Pacific War.
A statement in protest against the Abe Cabinet’s move to enact the state secrets protection bill, published by criminal law researchers on October 28, points out that the 1941 law brutally restricted free speech and took away citizens’ right to know during the war.
The National Defense Security Law, together with the Military Secrets Law, constituted the core of the state control of information before and during the war. All the information designated as “national secrets” was covered by this law with the maximum punishment of death.
The defense security bill was submitted to the Diet a year after all political parties except the Japanese Communist Party dissolved themselves and merged into the Imperial Rule Assistance Association.
Many lawmakers during deliberations in the Imperial Diet expressed concerns over possible speech regulations under the law, including Odaka Chozaburo, who said at the Lower House, “Almost all politicians like us or those engaged in journalism could be put under a strict gag order.”
The defense security law has many similarities with the state secrets bill, one of which is that the definition of “secret” is broad and vague. The wartime law was intended to hide information regarding “diplomacy, finance, economy, and other areas related to important national affairs.” The secrets bill is designed to label as secrets “information related to national security,” including defense and diplomacy.
Like the present bill, the government was able to hide from the public which information was designated as secret. Speaking on behalf of the Imperial Army, General Tanaka Ryukichi said at the Lower House, “To indicate what is secret would give an advantage to the enemy. What is secret thus should be secret too.”
The two also share which actions could be subject to punishment: those who have leaked, tracked, or collected “secret information” as well as those who have instigated or abetted such acts.
Once the defense security law came into effect in 1941, the government assigned public prosecutors to counterintelligence operations in major cities throughout Japan, which led to shadowing, spying, and other methods of surveillance that could infringe on citizens’ privacy. At the Lower House, the then chief of the Criminal Affairs Bureau of the Justice Ministry pointed to the possibility that the law would violate basic human rights.
As means to create a “silent society,” the defense security law was the strongest weapon used by the cabinet led by Prime Minister Tojo Hideki (1941 - 1944), who later was executed as a Class-A war criminal.
The Abe Cabinet has admitted that ordinary citizens could be subject to punishment if the secrets protection bill is enacted.