(Corrects paragraph 7 and adds paragraph 8 to clarify penalties
are up to 10 years, not up to five years, add comparison with
By Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO Nov 21 Thousands of people protested in
Tokyo on Thursday against a proposed secrets act that critics
say would stifle information on issues such as the Fukushima
The law, proposed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government,
would significantly broaden the definition of official secrets,
which Abe says is vital for strengthening security cooperation
with main ally the United States and other countries.
Tough secrecy regulations before and during World War Two
have long made such legislation taboo, but the law is expected
to pass when it comes to a vote next week, given the comfortable
majority the ruling coalition has in both houses of parliament.
"Without the right to know, democracy cannot exist," said
Yasunari Fujimoto, from the Peace Forum citizen's group, who
spoke at the protest in a park near parliament.
"If this law comes to pass, our constitution is nothing more
than a scrap of paper."
Critics say the law would prevent journalists from
investigating official mistakes, such as the collusion between
regulators and utilities that contributed to the 2011 Fukushima
Under the new law, public servants and others cleared for
access to such information could get up to 10 years in prison
for leaks. At present, they face one year imprisonment except
for defence officials, who are subject to up to five years in
prison or 10 years if the data came from the U.S. military.
Journalists and others in the private sector who encourage
such leaks could get up to five years in jail if they used
"grossly inappropriate" means to encourage leaks.
Protesters packed into a 3,000-seat outdoor theatre in the
park, with people standing in the aisles and spilling out into
the park. Some held signs saying "Don't take away our freedom."
Organisers put the turnout at around 10,000.
Abe insists the law is also essential to his plan to set up
a U.S.-style National Security Council.
Legal and media experts say the law is too broad and vague,
making it impossible to predict what would come under its
umbrella. The lack of an independent review process leaves wide
latitude for abuse, they say.
"This law is absolutely unacceptable. We have a right to
know everything," said Akio Hirose, a 54-year-old transport
"After all, we are the voters."
(Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Robert Birsel)