Factbox: Japan prepares for new law to protect national secrets

(Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has prepared a new law that seeks tougher penalties for leaking classified information on defense and diplomatic issues, which critics say would curtail press freedom and curtail the public’s right to know.

Following are key points of the legislation, which the government aims to pass in the current session of parliament ending on December 6. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and junior coalition partner New Komeito jointly hold a majority in both chambers of parliament.

- The legislation aims to protect critical national secrets in the fields of defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage from leaks by introducing harsher punishments.

- The bill comes when Japan, facing with a rapidly growing China and unpredictable North Korea, is expanding its defense ties with the United States, its closest ally.

- Civil servants and others with access to classified information would face up to 10 years in prison if they leak “special secrets” designated under the law. That compares with the current punishment of up to one year in prison for central government employees and up to five years for defense officials or up to 10 years if the classified defense information in question originates from the United States.

- The bill stipulates that freedom of the press and journalists’ information-gathering activities should be duly respected, and that reporters’ news-gathering activities are deemed proper conduct as long as they are aimed at serving the common good, not in violation of laws and not “grossly inappropriate”.

- If journalists have obtained “special secrets” through improper means not allowed under the law, they would be subject to up to five years in prison.

- Heads of the administrative branch such as cabinet ministers would have the power to designate classified information that needs special protection under the law as “special secrets”.

- The “special secret” status would remain valid for five years and can be renewed at the end of the five-year period. Cabinet approval would be necessary to keep the status for more than 30 years.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan