The House of Councillors has passed into law a divisive bill to protect specially designated state secrets with a majority of support from the ruling bloc, despite fierce resistance from the opposition camp.
The bill, which seeks to impose stiffer penalties on civil servants and other parties who leak national security information, was approved by a vote of 130 to 82 during the upper chamber's plenary session Friday night.
Calling for further deliberations on the bill, Your Party and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) boycotted the vote to protest the ruling bloc's "heavy-handed" handling of the legislation, though both opposition parties backed the bill after the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito modified it.
The largest opposition party, Democratic Party of Japan, also resisted the vote by submitting a series of motions, including a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet to the House of Representatives and a censure motion against state minister in charge of consumer affairs Masako Mori, who was in charge of the secrecy protection bill. However, all the motions were voted down.
Under the law, which will take effect a year after its promulgation, Cabinet members and others concerned will designate highly sensitive information in four areas, including defence and foreign affairs, as state secrets. Parties who leak such information will face a prison term of up to 10 years, far harsher than the maximum penalty set under the National Civil Service Law.
Meanwhile, the ruling parties on Friday secured the approval of the lower house to extend the current Diet session by two days until Sunday.
The no-confidence motion against Abe's Cabinet was rejected by lower house members of the ruling parties, as well as Ishin no Kai. The DPJ apparently submitted the motion in an attempt to delay the vote on extending the Diet session and have the secrecy bill scrapped at the end of the session. However, the matter of extending the Diet session overrode other issues, in accordance with a lower house precedent.
After the vote on extending the Diet session, the upper house held a plenary session in which a censure motion raised by the DPJ against the LDP's Masaharu Nakagawa, chairman of the upper house's Special Committee on National Security, was voted down by the majority of the ruling camp. The chamber then moved to vote on the bill.
At this point, DPJ lawmakers walked out, but later returned to vote against the bill. The bill passed shortly after 11:20 p.m. Friday. Following submission of the bill to the Diet on Oct. 25, 67 hours were spent in deliberations over the legislation at both chambers' special committees on national security.
After the bill passed, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters, "It's good that a bill enabling the protection of the nation's security and its people's safety has passed into law."
LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba told reporters in Tokyo: "For the NSC [National Security Council] to function properly, it's vital to safeguard secrets. Until the law takes effect, we'll do our best to obtain understanding from as many people as possible."
DPJ President Banri Kaieda, speaking at the Diet building, expressed his frustration with how the bill was passed. "It's very disappointing," he said. "The public won't tolerate such tyranny."