27 Nov 2013

State secrecy bill passed in Japan

11:58 am on 27 November 2013

The lower house of parliament in Japan has approved a state secrecy bill that imposes stiffer penalties on civil servants who leak secrets and journalists who try to obtain them.

The move has been criticised by reporters and freedom of speech campaigners as a heavy-handed effort to suppress press freedom.

But the government says the move is needed for national security reasons.

The BBC reports the bill now goes to the upper house, where it is also likely to be passed next month.

Critics say the new law could allow the government to withhold more information and ultimately undermine Japan's democracy.

''This law is designed to protect the safety of the people," said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Under the law, public servants or others cleared for access to state secrets could be sent to prison for up to 10 years for leaking information.

Journalists and others in the private sector convicted of encouraging such leaks could get up to five years in prison if they use "grossly inappropriate" means to solicit the information.