Posts by catiarizio1

 
 

Japan’s state secrecy laws still a secret

Aditi Razdan

Politics | East Asia

 

In the first year after Japan’s State Secrecy Law was enacted, various ministers and agencies classified 382 issues as state secrets.  The law is well into its second year, yet we still don’t know what actually constitutes a ‘state secret’.

Prime Minister Abe railroaded the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets (SDS) through the Diet, or Japanese parliament, in spite of 80% opposition from the Japanese public.  

As of December 2014, whistle-blowers can be imprisoned for 10 years if they leak state secrets, and journalists publishing this information face upto five years in jail and a hefty fine. The law targets terrorism, espionage and defence leaks, and at first glance, it is familiar and expected given the current reality of transnational crime and terrorism.  

Yet the media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, have warned that the law is an “unprecedented threat to freedom of information” and an “obstruction of peoples’ right to know.”

[related_article align="right" show_image="yes" index=1 text="Japan’s idol industry reaches a new level of danger"]

So what makes this law potentially destructive?  It’s because it makes Abe and his administration the judge, jury and enforcers.  

The ambiguity of the law extends beyond the definition of a state secret. Government ministers and agencies determine what a state secret is, and oversight of these decisions is managed by a panel and committee appointed by Abe.  In actions that do not resemble the democratic principles Japan has been lauded for, there has been little public consultation, no parliamentary consensus on what a state secret is, and a lack of transparency in the law’s operation.  

Alarmingly, any agency or government minister can store a secret for 30-60 years.  This time period is longer than the tenure of a regular bureaucrat or politician, bestowing power to a government far beyond their democratically elected time in office.

Freedom of speech is enshrined in Japan’s post-war constitution; it has cemented Japan’s place as a free, democratic society and ensured trust in media and politics.  This recent law shifts the norm, making freedom of speech conditional and communication between politics and wider society a condition of the government.  

In a meeting, the Executive Controller of International Relations for state broadcaster NHK, Akinori Hashimoto, admitted that there was always tension between “politicians and journalists, but freedom of speech and competitive media ensured these tensions were stabilized”.  However, with these most recent laws, it is unlikely that the media could compete with each-other for so-called state-secrets, let alone compete with the government.

This has implications for every level of information gathering.  Whilst Hashimoto maintained that the state broadcaster remained independent, he revealed that the new laws “make it harder to find sources in the bureaucracy”.  The law is quietly strangling potential critique in a time where Abe has a sweeping grip on power.  Scrutiny is at the heart of democracy, and without it, Abe’s choices go unchallenged.  

This chilling effect is arguably more damaging than the law itself.  It is the threat of revealing a state secret that deters whistle-blowers and journalists, and the threat of breaking the new laws.  In such a way the ambiguity of the SDS was likely intentional to allow for discretionary operation by ministers and government agencies, as well as acting as a mechanism that scares people into silence.   

A state of fear and distrust is contagious.  

And where will people seek remedy? The only place that has answers-the government. This is the fastest way to reverse a culture where facts are dissected, truth is grappled with and opinions are not coerced.  

Katsumi Sawada is  a reporter from Japan’s oldest newspaper Mainichi Shimbon.  In his opinion, “The law shows that the influence of Abe has increased, as his personal opinions have influenced the law.”  Personal opinions should not override the opposition of a 100 million citizens.  But in a post-2014 Japan, it seems Abe’s do.  

Ordinarily, a country would have counter-measures that protect journalists and their sources from this type of law.  This source of protection is non-existent in Japan.  Furthermore, there is no “public interest override” that would recognize circumstances where the public interest outweighs any potential harms of disclosure.

It is difficult to measure the effects this law has had on free media in Japan.  When a state secret itself is not defined, it is nearly impossible to determine what media outlets can no longer report on. What is clear however is that this law, in all its vagueness, signals that the government are the ultimate arbiters of what is free and what is not.  This is blatant overreach and something that Japanese citizens did not choose.

In a time of constitutional change previously unseen in Japan’s post-war history, confusion over Japan’s nuclear energy plans and continued mismanagement of Fukushima relief efforts, open debate and dissent is crucial.  However, a monopoly on truth does make it much easier to govern.

4 minute read

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Drug war, still poor

Miguel Galsim

Society and culture | Southeast Asia

 

People in the Philippines support the Drug War, and it is not surprising to see slum residents voicing support for the anti-crime crusade, says Monsoon contributor Miguel Galsim.

In reality, it is often the poorest in Philippine society who have to deal with drug-related crime and experience in the flesh the destruction of families and communities by the shabu industry. Accordingly, many votes for Duterte were votes against the spectre of drug crime. Many people hoped for a better future.

Yet, hope quickly morphs into anxiety when the brutality of the war does little to alleviate the poverty of those on the receiving end of drug crime. So long as the poor remain on the periphery of policymaking in the Philippines, the same problems of drugs and crime will persist, and the poverty that breeds this criminality will remain entrenched if genuine structural reform centred on the Filipino poor is ignored.

Many have argued the Drug War is a war on the lower class. President Duterte denied this, and recently Philippine National Police Director General Dela Rosa stated that the war would soon target the higher echelons of the drug trade. What is undeniable, however, is that slum dwellers are often caught in the crossfire with little say in the war that is often touted as being waged for their benefit.

The police enter the slums and arrest and/or kill whoever is named on a list provided by the barangay (district/ward) captain, although it is rarely verified how the information was gathered, or if it is even accurate.

Concurrently, the encouragement of vigilantism has given unprecedented impunity to contract killers, regardless of the purpose of the hit. The contraventions against due process within these operations also go without saying, further entrenching power in the hands of the state, pushing the poor further into the periphery.

Maximo Garcia was one day labelled a pusher by one of these lists, and hurriedly declared to the police that while he had used shabu in the past, he was not involved in its distribution. He thought he was safe. Four days later gunmen on a motorcycle attempted to kill him. His five-year old granddaughter, Danica, died instead.

A contract killer, profiled by the BBC, kills on the order of a police officer, her boss. Also impoverished, contract killing became a way to feed her family. However, leaving the field appears not to be an option as she claims the officer “threatened to kill anyone who leaves the team.”

[caption id="attachment_4709" align="aligncenter" width="446"] President Duterte shows a copy of a diagram showing the connection of high level drug syndicates operating in the country during a press conference at Malacañang on July 7, 2016. Image taken under a creative commons license from Flickr.[/caption]

Both situations are not only symptomatic of a wider disenfranchisement of the urban poor, but indicative of ignorance surrounding the root causes of drug crime and usage, particularly poverty. Killing 100,000 pushers may decrease crime for a while, but when people continue to live in crushing poverty the urge to use narcotics as an escape mechanism, or to kill and extort in order to survive, remains constant.

Across the ocean, the example of Colombia demonstrates how underlying political problems can prevent effective solutions to crime. Even though the government conducted an all-out assault on the Medellin Cartel, destroying it by 1993, crime rates did not suddenly decrease, nor did narcotics operations.

Income inequality and the incapacity of the state to monopolise security resulted in the continuation of organised criminality to present. Similarly in Mexico, the collapse of certain cartels does not spell peace, as the underlying issue of “anaemic public institutions” remains unresolved.

In general, a greater distribution of wealth and extension of services needs to be achieved. In July, the Duterte administration announced plans for rice subsidies benefitting the country’s poorest, although the effectiveness of its implementation remains unknown.

Additionally, the administration should consider expanding its CCT (Conditional Cash Transfer) program, contrary to its July announcement, and refining its scope to prevent wastage. Moreover, the government would do well to incentivise infrastructure providers to extend critical services like electricity and water to slum districts. A concerted effort from the government and relevant private sectors is necessary to gradually lift the nation’s lowest socio-economic bracket.

From the perspective of slum residents, a more effective strategy against crime would be to include the urban poor in decision making, especially by engaging grassroots community leaders and unionists.

Reinforcing and elongating the proposed rehabilitation and incarceration programs for surrendered drug users – which are often under-resourced and ineffective, further demonstrating the state’s ignorance of underlying issues – would also be critical for reducing recidivism within impoverished communities.

Failing to understand the situation of the poor, especially in urban slums, the Drug War is doomed to continue marginalising these people and trapping them between the extremes of poverty and a hail of bullets.

The crusade may destroy the current syndicates, but crime will continue to spring out of the neglected margins. If these shortcomings remain unrealised, innocent boys and girls will continue to be made unnecessary sacrifices in a brutish government policy.

5 minute read

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An interview with Dr. Nicholas Farrelly

Mish Khan

Society and culture | Asia

 

This week we caught up with Dr Nicholas Farrelly, a fellow at the Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, to discuss his academic career and life as a former ANU student. Nicholas is the director of the ANU Myanmar Research Centre and convenor of the PhB program in the College of Asia and the Pacific. Nicholas also runs the Asia Pacific Week internship course and supervises various honours, masters and PHD students at ANU.

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