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Seeking State Secrets

Scientists in Japan are launching a political battle against the leading party in parliament over a new bill that was drafted to protect government secrets, but which the science community says will crush academic freedom, ScienceInsider reports.

The bill, which passed both houses of parliament swiftly in recent weeks, would make it a crime punishable with up to 10-year prison sentences for government employees to leak secret information. Journalists could land five years in the joint for just soliciting such secrets, under the bill.

According to ScienceInsider, nearly all of Japan's media, non-governmental organizations, legal groups, and the general public, all oppose the bill, and yet it has sailed through the parliament and may soon become law.

Enter the science community. A group of around 30 academics, including Nobel Laureates physicist Toshihide Maskawa and chemist Hideki Shirakawa, have teamed to issue a statement blasting the proposed law, saying it is a threat to "the pacifist principles and fundamental human rights established by the constitution and should be rejected immediately."

Over 3,000 academics in Japan have now signed the statement.

Maskawa said in a recent interview with the newspaper Asahi Shimbun that, the while government has a need to keep sensitive information secret, he is concerned that the bill is too broad and could prevent public and academic scrutiny of potentially controversial policies.

For example, a number of scientists have said that the government has done a poor job disclosing data from nuclear accidents, something that would fall under the domain of 'public interest' if anything does, and they have been seeking more and better information about the threat to public safety, ScienceInsider notes.

"Rather than make something secret, security is better achieved by letting everyone have a look at it," Makawa says.