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Japan's new state-secrets law gives leakers up to 10 years in prison

Japan's new state-secrets law gives leakers up to 10 years in prison

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Japan has enacted a new state-secrets law that strengthens punishments for journalists and government officials who leak or seek top secrets, reports Reuters. The legislation has been met with protests and criticism by the public, with many fearing that the law will be used to silence media outlets or allow government officials to cover up their actions. Reuters reports that under the law, public employees and others with access to state secrets could be jailed up to 10 years for leaking them, while journalists and other private sector employees could be jailed up to five years for seeking out state secrets through "grossly inappropriate" means.

Information can be marked as secret for 60 years or longer

But many are concerned that private employees could be punished simply for seeking information that they weren't aware was a state secret in the first place. Reuters reports that leaders of all ministries will have authority to create state secrets that are held for up to 60 years — sometimes longer. According to the Associated Press, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pressed for the law, saying that it was a necessity for protecting national security and ensuring that the United States was comfortable sharing sensitive information with them.

Others have shown concern around the lack of oversight written into the new law, reports the AP. Lawmakers also showed concern over how it would impact business between private and public employees. "People will be living in a society where they could be punished for not knowing what’s secret and what’s not," Sohei Nihi, a Japan Communist Party legislator, reportedly said while arguing against the bill. Even some members of the prime minister's own party felt that the legislation had been passed too quickly. "I think there needs to be more explanation," Takashi Uto, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, led by Abe, tells the AP.

The government says that it will work to explain the law. "We think that this law is extremely important for our connections with our allies and other foreign nations," chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga tells Reuters. "I believe that people will come to understand."

The legislation's passing comes as US government secrets continue to spill out from information leaked by Edward Snowden. Japan's bill is seen as an attempt to crack down on the potential for this same type of whistleblowing activity. While it's not evident how the law will be utilized yet, it's clear that many are concerned over its potential applications.