For Some Japanese, Anti-Spy Bill Recalls Wartime Repression
TOKYO (AP) _ Lawyers, artists and journalists have joined in opposition to a proposed anti-espionage bill that for some Japanese raises ghosts of wartime repression here.
Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s government maintains that the bill specifically safeguards free expression while closing legal loopholes that prompted one Soviet KGB defector to call Japan ″a paradise for spies.″
Nakasone’s Liberal-Democratic Party is preparing to submit the proposed National Secrets Law to the Diet, Japan’s parliament, in the coming weeks.
The draft version says the law is intended ″to contribute to the security of Japan by preventing acts of espionage (and) punishing such acts as monitoring and collection of defense secrets.″
Those convicted of obtaining information related to defense and foreign relations by unauthorized means, or of transmitting that information to other countries, could face fines or jail sentences of two years to life in prison.
Authorities recently deported two Polish computer experts who worked illegally in Tokyo for a computer graphics firm and allegedly collected high- tech information. The case fueled growing official concern about East Europeans working in sensitive fields.
The bill’s supporters say Japan now has no law governing espionage, and that spies, especially from North Korea and the Soviet bloc, have relatively free access to sensitive information on defense and high-tech industries.
The critics contend that existing laws already cover espionage, and that the new law could be abused to muzzle the media and restrict public access to information on the government.
″There certainly are ways to protect national secrets,″ said Atsushi Nishikohri, vice president of a Tokyo Bar Association. ″But anti-communists in the Diet have convinced the public and other legislators that no such laws exist.″
For some older Japanese, the proposed law revives memories of the years before and during World War II when Japan’s military government, in the name if national security, arrested anyone considered to have defamed the government or military.
″During the war, people kept an eye on each other, and reported to the police. Even friends and relatives of people who were arrested were also suspect,″ said Kim Payne, an English-born Japanese citizen.
″The police called me in for over a week and interrogated me. They were very nasty. Now people are worried that if they live near a military base, they might be arrested (under the proposed law) for no good reason.″
A newspaper scommentator writing in the Asahi Shimbun noted that wartime secrecy rules concealed the extent of devastation by American bombings in March 1945, probably prolonging the war.
″To consider what would have happened if the newspapers had truthfully reported the tragedy of the bombings ... is a valuable lesson for those supporting the National Secrets Law,″ he wrote.
A Liberal Democratic Party spokesman responded that such critics are overreacting because they are unaware of safeguards to protect basic rights.
″Spying is bad, and everyone, even the press, agrees that it is unforgiveable,″ said the spokesman, who under party policy goes only by his last name, Shimuzu. ″They just don’t understand that this law has nothing to do with journalism or the common man - it’s only meant to catch and punish spies.″
Stanislav Levchenko, a former Soviet KGB agent who described Japan as a spy’s paradise, claimed after defecting to the United States in 1979 that 50 to 60 Soviet spies were operating in Japan at the time.
Various regulations currently govern activities of civil servants, teachers and foreigners in Japan. The U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty, for example, calls for jail terms of up to 10 years for anyone convicted of collecting classified information on U.S. forces in Japan. A similar law covers Japan’s 240,000 Self Defense Force personnel.
″Spies are active here,″ Liberal Democrat spokesman Shimuzu said. ″As an independent country, with economic, political and cultural influence overseas, we must protect our national secrets.″
But lawyer Nishikohri said a law designed to keep information within Japan might also cut the flow of information into the country from abroad.
Another lawyer, Yukiko Tsunoda, said the ban on passing defense secrets to foreigners would discourage Japanese from working with other nationals.
″The category of defense secrets could include just about anything related to high technology, communications and diplomacy, in addition to defense,″ Tsunoda said. ″If this bill is passed, the public would be best off knowing nothing at all.″