This nation’s freedom of expression is under serious threat. The central player in creating the threat is without doubt the central government. The seriousness of this has reached extreme levels in Okinawa.
United Nations Special Rapporteur David Kaye of the United States has announced the results of an investigation into freedom of expression in Japan. In particular he mentioned Okinawa, pointing out the central government’s “excessive use of force” against local residents protesting the construction of a new base at Henoko in Nago City.
In the coastal waters of Henoko, where until recently one had the freedom to navigate, the coast guard is riding herd on local residents and overturning boats. In open space near a national road where until recently one could walk freely, army guards are forcibly dragging down and arresting local residents just for taking a single step in the wrong place. Police are pulling out their batons on protesting residents, and injuries among protesters continue to mount. It’s a scene you might mistake for an authoritarian state, unbecoming of a democratic nation.
Kaye is a specialist in international human rights and international humanitarian law. His observations point to clear human right abuses if the strong-armed security tactics occurring at Henoko are considered against the light of international standards. The central government must put a stop to the embarrassing clampdown immediately.
Kaye has already expressed alarm to the National Police Agency and Japan Coast Guard, expressing his “intention to follow the situation.” As long as the clampdown continues, the central government will continue to receive international criticism.
In addition, Kaye said of politicians’ clampdown on Okinawa’s two newspapers, “It is a serious issue. We will continue a comprehensive investigation.”* This is an indication that the threat to freedom of expression is more serious in Okinawa than the rest of the nation.
Kaye raised issues of pressure on television networks and also pointed out that independent media in Japan are facing serious threats. There was also concern over Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Sanae Takaichi’s hinting at the possible suspension of broadcaster licenses based on Article 4 of the Broadcast Act. Kaye suggested that Article 4 should be scrapped. As for the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, he suggested that the law should be scrapped or completely revised, and that there should be clarification in writing about non-prosecution of journalists.
Why is freedom of expression important? If we know there is some inadequacy with the system, we can fix it through elections in a democracy. However, if there is no freedom of expression, then from the start, information that should be the focus of elections is hidden from the people and nothing gets fixed through the election process. The bedrock of a democratic state would crumble.
Freedom of expression was long disallowed under U.S. Army rule. It is an important right that our ancestors put their lives on the line to build. We cannot allow the loss of this great legacy.
*Editor’s note: Although this quoted remark is accurately translated, it could not be independently verified.