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Statement on the Japanese Government's 'Designated Secrets Bill' by John Ralston Saul, PEN International President

Wednesday 20 November 2013 - 10:58am

Statement by John Ralston Saul, PEN International President

Governments need very few secrets and citizens have the right to a great deal of information. Citizens need this information in order to fulfill their role. And they have the right to this information. Instead we are witnessing an inflation of secrecy around the world; a desire by governments and public servants to hide and obscure their actions. This security obsession may be in fashion today in Japan, in the Americas, in Europe. That doesn't make it right. Democracies are built on three things: citizens, their freedom of expression and the transparency of their governments. Each democracy has its particularities, but all share these three elements. Weaken them and you undermine democracy. When the state holds back too much information, it forces citizens to release that information in other ways. The blame lies with those who undermine transparency, not with those who increase it.

The Japanese government's "Designated Secrets Bill" is not about the needs of the state or real secrets or the protection of the public good. It seems to be about politicians and employees of the state hiding behind an inflated idea of secrecy and an obsession with security verging on the hysterical, all in order to gather more power for themselves by undermining the rights of citizens to information and to free speech.


With great concern I received the news about the planed reduction in the democratic rights for free speech in Japan. It falls into a dangerous and extremely discouraging trend of attacks on the UN human rights declaration adopted by the vast majority of world states. This trend started by the US after 9/11 and followed by a number of countries I would not have believed Japan would join! My fully support to Japan PEN's campaign to stop these regulations forced upon the nation by its shortsighted government.

Eugene Schoulgin
Vice-President of PEN International


Freedom of expression is not something to be toyed with by governments. It is a human right to be constitutionally safeguarded by governments. All citizens must be guaranteed their right to read, and write, and their right to knowledge and information.

Japan's proposed "Designated Secrets Bill" not only targets writers and journalists by threatening to penalize them for doing their work, but also takes away the rights of all Japanese citizens. As currently written it would create a climate of self-censorship and uncertainty.

Marian Botsford fraser
Chair Writers in Prison Committee
PEN International