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Hi Blog. The Government of Japan (GOJ) is at it again — curtailing fundamental civil and human rights for its people and getting nasty if you object to it. Once upon a time (see below), the GOJ merely denied that Japan is in violation of any of its human rights treaties by giving sophistic counterarguments. Now, under the ultrarightist Abe Administration, those denials are on steroids, with leading politicians injecting indignant anger into their denialism, even activating the Gaijin Handlers abroad to whitewash optics on Japan’s policies in places like the New York Times.
First, the Japan Times offers a primer on the emerging Conspiracy Bill that received sharp criticism on May 18 by UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy and University of Malta Law Professor Joseph Cannataci, on the heels of criticism from UN Special Rapporteur and UC Irvine Law Professor David Kaye leveled at Japan’s already diminishing press freedoms in a report last year.
From Cannataci’s letter:
“Serious concern is expressed that the proposed bill, in its current form and in combination with other legislation, may affect the exercise of the right to privacy as well as other fundamental public freedoms given its potential broad application. In particular I am concerned by the risks of arbitrary application of this legislation given the vague definition of what would constitute the ‘planning’ and ‘preparatory actions’ and given the inclusion of an overbroad range of crimes in the Appendix which are apparently unrelated to terrorism and organized crime.” (Full letter from Cannataci’s letter to the Japanese government, dated May 18, 2017.)
From Kaye’s introduction:
“I learned of deep and genuine concern that trends are moving sharply and alarmingly in the wrong direction. This is especially acute in the context of media independence. Japan has well-earned pride in a Constitution that expressly protects the freedom of the press. Yet the independence of the press is facing serious threats: a weak system of legal protection, persistent Government exploitation of a media lacking in professional solidarity, and the recent adoption of the Specially Designated Secrets Act are all combining to impose what I perceive to be significant challenges especially to the mainstream media, where the vast majority of Japanese citizens get their news. Numerous journalists, many agreeing to meet with me only on condition of anonymity to protect their livelihoods, highlighted the pressure to avoid sensitive areas of public interest. Many claimed to have been sidelined or silenced following indirect pressure from leading politicians. A country with such strong democratic foundations should resist and protect against such interference.” (Full text of Kaye’s report at the UN OHCHR website: “Preliminary observations by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression“, dated 19 April 2016.
After the Japan Times article, let’s look at how the New York Times reports on the Conspiracy Bill, and how the GOJ quickly responds with its Gaijin Handlers.
They doth protest too much, methinks. Even an academic source cited in the Japan Times below says he’s “not aware of any other developed nation that had protested against special rapporteurs so vociferously and consistently as Japan.” And, as far as Debito.org goes, you just know that these “terrorism” and “organized crime” tropes, once further embedded in law, will be used to further racially profile and crack down in particular on (foreign) “terrorists” and (foreign) “organized crime”. But this new law will normalize it for everyone. Dr. Debito Arudou
(More on Debito.org regarding prior UN Rapporteur reactions to Japan’s human rights issues, with Special Rapporteur Doudou Diene and Special Rapporteur Jorge Bustamante (here and here).)
Abe government clashes with U.N. rapporteurs critical of Japan (excerpt)
BY TOMOHIRO OSAKI, THE JAPAN TIMES, MAY 31, 2017, courtesy of JDG
Weeks after a U.N. special rapporteur released a surprise open letter slamming a state-backed conspiracy bill that critics warn could erode privacy and free speech rights, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shown no sign of letting up on its targeting of the statement.
If anything, it has been hellbent on discrediting what it claims was an “inappropriate” rebuke by the United Nations expert.
Tokyo’s ongoing clash with Joseph Cannataci, a U.N.-commissioned expert on the right to privacy, is reminiscent of a similar war of words it has fought with U.N. special rapporteurs in recent years. Many of the probes by those officials into the human rights situation in Japan have led to conclusions often at odds with the government line…
As he spoke to the Upper House plenary session on Monday, Abe openly blasted Cannataci’s assessment as “extremely unbalanced” and said his behavior was “hardly that of an objective expert.”
On Tuesday, his Cabinet approved three official statements condemning the official’s letter, which it claimed was drawn up “based on misunderstanding” and without the government ever being afforded an opportunity to thoroughly explain to him about the proposed legal revision.
In these statements, the Cabinet reiterated the government position that Cannataci’s critique did not reflect U.N. views. Prior to these statements, Tokyo had swiftly lodged a direct protest over the issue with the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.
“When there is a misunderstanding of facts, it is of course our position that we get our message across,” said a senior Foreign Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
On Wednesday, the government’s position was on full display when Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda launched into a separate attack against another U.N. special rapporteur’s criticism of the government.
Hagiuda said it was “extremely regrettable that the government position was not fully reflected” in a report issued Tuesday by David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. In his report, Kaye had pointed out “significant worrying signals” for Japan’s freedom of expression.
[Kaye’s criticism: While welcoming government efforts to clarify the four specific categories under which information may be designated as secret — defense, diplomacy, prevention of specified harmful activities and prevention of terrorist activities — Kaye warned that “specific subcategories remain overly broad” and thus involve the risk of being arbitrarily applied.
Regarding government pressure on media, Kaye raised concerns over the broadcasting law and particularly its Article 4, which provides the basis for the government to suspend broadcasting licenses if TV stations are not “politically fair.”
Kaye said that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications “should not be in the position of determining what is fair.” (Source)]
“Government evaluation of such broadly stated norms would lead to deterrence of the media’s freedom to serve as a watchdog, if it is not already creating such disincentives to reporting,” he added.
In yet another incident, the Foreign Ministry lodged a strident protest with special rapporteur Maud de Boer-Buquicchio in 2015 over what it labeled a factually dubious claim that “13 percent of Japan’s schoolgirls have engaged in compensated dating (enjo kosai).”
According to the OHCHR website, special rapporteurs are independent human rights experts who “are appointed by the Human Rights Council and serve in their personal capacities,” with mandates to report and advise on human rights. They are not U.N. staff members and receive no financial remuneration, it says.
In this regard, the government assertion that Cannataci’s letter does not represent the U.N. stance is “valid,” said Ichiro Kawabe, a professor of U.N. studies at Aichi University. But at the same time, he said, these experts’ commentaries are not hostile in nature and are designed to foster constructive discussions on human rights issues.
“Being a developed country, Japan is in a position to improve the global standards of human rights. So what it should be doing is not to overreact to what it considers to be a factual error every chance it gets, but listen humbly to what the experts have to say,” Kawabe said, adding that he was not aware of any other developed nation that had protested against special rapporteurs so vociferously and consistently as Japan…
In slamming Kaye’s preliminary report on freedom of expression, a circle of conservative scholars in Japan last month released an open letter questioning his methods. In it, the group alleged his report was “based on interviews with a limited number of journalists when he visited Japan for just one week” and that “the academic analysis is sorely lacking.”
This claim, however, failed to note that Kaye did meet government representatives to hear their side of the issue, as well. ENDS
Full JT article at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/05/31/national/abe-government-clashes-u-n-rapporteurs-critical-japan/
Now for the New York Times article:
Conspiracy Bill Advances in Japan Despite Surveillance Fears
By MOTOKO RICH, THE NEW YORK TIMES, MAY 23, 2017
TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan won a crucial vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday on an anti-conspiracy bill that he said was needed to fight terrorism but that critics feared could give the authorities broad surveillance powers over citizens.
With protesters gathered outside the country’s lower house of Parliament in Tokyo, Mr. Abe’s party and its allies approved a bill that would make it a crime to conspire with others to commit terrorism and a raft of other crimes.
Speaking before the vote, Hiroshi Hiraguchi, a member of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, expressed condolences for the victims of a suicide bombing that killed 22 people at a concert in Britain on Monday. He said that the bill was needed to help Japan fulfill “the grave responsibility” of hosting the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Mr. Abe’s party called for the vote even as a United Nations expert on human rights accused the government of rushing the measure without sufficient debate on appropriate safeguards for privacy and free speech.
Joseph Cannataci, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to privacy, wrote to Mr. Abe warning that the bill, if adopted, could “lead to undue restrictions to the rights to privacy and to freedom of expression.”
A day before the lower house voted, Mr. Abe’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, lashed out against Mr. Cannataci’s letter, calling it “clearly inappropriate” and dismissing the special rapporteur’s concerns. The Japanese government also lodged an official protest with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Mr. Abe has repeatedly argued that Japan needs to pass the bill in order to ratify a United Nations convention on international organized crime originally signed in 2000, as well as to protect Japan from terrorism in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics.
This was not the first time Mr. Abe pushed for legislation over public opposition. Two years ago, the government defied mass public protests and passed a package of security-related bills authorizing limited overseas combat missions for the country’s military for the first time since World War II. The Japanese anti-conspiracy bill also comes as the Chinese government is considering an intelligence law that would allow its authorities to monitor both foreign and domestic suspects.
Recent polls show the Japanese public is split over the anti-conspiracy bill, but more than three-quarters said the government had not sufficiently explained why it needed to pass the legislation. The bill is expected to go before the upper house of Parliament for final passage before the current legislative session ends in mid-June. Mr. Abe’s party and its allies have a two-thirds majority in both houses.
In an email, Mr. Cannataci said the government should take more time to discuss and amend the bill to include more safeguards for privacy and freedom of speech.
“This is the time for the government of Japan to sit back for a minute, reflect, realize that it can do things in a better way and then proceed to behave like a world-class democracy by taking the time necessary” to modify the bill, he wrote.
In a country where terrorism is extremely rare, critics say that the bill is far too vague in defining terrorism and that the list of crimes subject to possible surveillance was arbitrary.
An appendix to the bill includes unlicensed bike racing, copyright infringement and stealing plants from forest preserves, exposing those involved in the planning of such activities to prosecution.
Such crimes, critics say, seem to have little to do with terrorism. They say the bill would merely give the government wide latitude to put people under surveillance.
“There are no apparent reasons certain crimes are covered and others are not,” said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Mr. Nakano said that because people might be worried about the government trawling emails, text messages and social media posts for evidence of criminal conspiracy, anyone who protests government policies might be reluctant to speak out.
“There will be more self-censorship in a country where there is already not a very vibrant civil society,” he said.
Although Japanese law requires the police to obtain warrants to install wiretaps on phones, the courts almost always grant such requests.
As a result, opponents of the bill say that it could strip citizens of their rights to privacy in the name of preventing terrorism. Japan has had few major terrorist attacks since 1995, when members of a cult killed 13 and sickened more than 5,800 in a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway.
“How far are we willing to sacrifice our privacy is the question,” said Kenta Yamada, a journalism professor at Senshu University in Tokyo. “We may possibly get into the world of ‘1984,’” he said, referring to the dystopian novel by George Orwell in which citizens are constantly under surveillance.
Concerns about the bill were stirred during testimony by Japan’s justice minister, Katsutoshi Kaneda, when he gave examples of the kinds of activities that might cause the authorities to suspect that an individual or group was planning a crime. In one instance, Mr. Kaneda suggested that someone visiting a park with a map and binoculars could be suspected of plotting a terrorist attack.
“It’s so vague that it allows the police to justify whatever they do,” said Kanako Takayama, a professor of criminal law at Kyoto University. “If you buy a pair of scissors, that may be viewed as preparing for a crime.”
But supporters of the bill said the opposition and the news media had inflated the justice minister’s comments rather than focusing on the content of the bill. “They just enjoy picking up the funny things of the minister who cannot explain things very well,” said Keijiro Kimura, a lawyer in Osaka who supported the bill.
Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Mr. Hiraguchi, the lawmaker, said that the bill was explicitly limited to “organized crime groups.”
“It is further clear that common people will not be the target of punishment stipulated by this legislation,” Mr. Hiraguchi said.
But the United Nations special rapporteur, Mr. Cannataci, said in an email that the bill was “defective.”
“With great power comes great responsibility,” Mr. Cannataci wrote. “Yet this bill is not accompanied by a stiffening of measures intended to safeguard privacy. Other rights like freedom of speech and freedom of association are likewise not reinforced.”
Opposition lawmakers said that the governing party had stifled debate and that the legislation needed more public input.
The Japanese people deserve to “decide for themselves where they want their freedoms restricted in order to protect their security,” said Shiori Yamao, a member of the opposition Democratic Party. ENDS
And here’s the response from the Gaijin Handlers at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
The New York Times Opinion Pages | LETTER
Japan and an Anti-Conspiracy Bill
JUNE 1, 2017
To the Editor:
Re “Anti-Conspiracy Bill Advances in Japan” (news article, May 24):
Concluding the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, or Untoc, is a pressing issue for Japan, as we prepare to play host to major events, particularly the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Although Japan signed the convention, domestic laws do not fulfill the obligations of the treaty, impeding Japan from concluding it.
After recent terrorist attacks in Britain, Sweden and Belgium, last week in Sicily the G-7 leaders called for more cooperation to implement international agreements, including Untoc.
Updating domestic laws and concluding the treaty will allow Japan to fill an international legal loophole and contribute to preventing organized crime, including terrorism. Yury Fedotov, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, has welcomed Japan’s efforts in this regard.
Regarding claims of surveillance fears, the proposed provision criminalizing an act of planning and preparation to commit terrorism and other serious crimes will apply only to “organized criminal groups,” and the listed crimes to which the provision may apply are rigorously limited to those likely to be committed by such groups.
Few other countries limit the scope of the law as strictly as Japan does.
NORIO MARUYAMA, TOKYO
The writer is press secretary for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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