Japan promulgates secrecy law, oversight mechanism eyed

Japan on Friday promulgated the contentious secrecy law to impose stricter penalties on leakers of state secrets, amid concerns that tighter state control of information will undermine the public's right to know.

The focus shifts to the creation of an independent oversight mechanism as Friday's promulgation of the law via the internet and other channels set off a preparatory period of up to a year before the law comes into effect.

As a first step, the government launched an office staffed by around 10 officials within the Cabinet Secretariat to lay the groundwork for enforcing the law.

To ease mounting concern that the public's right to know and freedom of the press will be compromised, Prime Minster Shinzo Abe has pledged to create a system that can impose checks on the legitimacy of withholding sensitive information as "special secrets."

"We will explain in detail about the purpose and intention of the law and how it will be enforced to dispel public worries and concerns," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.

Under the secrecy law that the ruling bloc enacted last Friday, leakers of special secrets -- information on diplomacy, defense, counterterrorism and counterespionage -- such as civil servants will face up to 10 years in prison. Those who instigate leaks will get a maximum term of five years.

The government is to launch an oversight committee where government officials at the vice-ministerial level will oversee the designation and declassification of secrets, possibly by the end of this year.

It will also establish in January an advisory council of experts to decide on rules detailing how information will be designated as secret, controlled and declassified.

Still, opposition lawmakers and critics have questioned whether the oversight mechanism the government intends to establish will be truly independent, expressing concerns about the absence of legislative checks.