The Japanese government of Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has refused to appoint some of the scholars recommended by the Science Council of Japan as its new members. The Science Council, which is often referred to as “academics’ parliament”, makes policy proposals on behalf of the nation’s scientists and researchers. The prime minister’s interference with the academic society constitutes an infringement of academic freedom and a serious challenge to democracy in Japan. A country in which the government disregards the importance of science and interferes with academic freedom is increasing in number. Zenroren has grave concern over this trend and published the following statement.
Zenroren demands PM Suga retract his interference with Science Council regarding personnel affairs
The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)
October 6, 2020
Protest action in front of the Cabinet Office in the evening of October 6th
Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s refusal to appoint six scholars as new members of the Science Council of Japan has sparked nationwide protests and a call for his refusal to be retracted. The refusal is a clear violation of the Science Council’s independence from the government and tantamount to threatening the constitutional rights to academic freedom and freedoms of thought, creed, and expression. We file a resolute protest against the interference. We demand that Prime Minister Suga explain the reason for his refusal swiftly appoint the six new members.
The Science Council of Japan was founded in January 1949 as a “special organization” to perform duties independent of the government for the purpose of having science reflected in and permeated into administration, industries and people's lives. It represents about 870,000 Japanese scholars at home and internationally, in all academic fields including the humanities, social sciences, life science, science and engineering. The organization consisting of 210 members and about 2,000 associates is tasked to make proposals to the government regarding policies and enlighten the public of the role of science.
The Act on the Science Council provides that members of the Science Council of Japan are appointed by the Prime Minister based on the council’s recommendations. But the “appointment” by the Prime Minister is a “formality”. The government has previously explained that it respects the council’s selection of new members and appoint recommended members. (House of Councilors Committee on Education, 100th Session of the Diet, November 24, 1983). The government’s latest rejection is the first since the council was established in 1949 and since the present system of recommendation was introduced in 1983.
The six people who were rejected are scholars in political science, law, history, religion. Their studies have concerns with freedom of thought and creed, and with respect of human rights. They have opposed the War Laws, the State Secrets Law, and the Conspiracy Law. The government has not explained the reason for its rejection even to the rejected persons. This is exactly what government interference with the council is about. It is crystal clear that this is the government’s interference. Exclusion of scholars who do not comply with the government’s wish is manifestation of the authoritarian nature of the Suga Cabinet.
Prime Minister Suga, in an interview on October 5 with the Cabinet press club, did not give the reason for his rejection of the appointment of the six. He just said that his decision “had nothing to do with the question academic freedom.” Asked whether the decision was consistent with what the government previously explained, he always said he made the appointments by law. Earlier, soon after he became a prime minister he said, “Bureaucrats who do not follow the government will be asked to transfer to another job.” He has been high-handed in saying that Science Council members are “public servants” and that “the prime minister has the responsibility to appoint them.” This sophistry reminds us of sophistry the government used to arbitrarily change the government interpretation that Japan “cannot exercise a right of collective self-defense” without it being considered in the Diet in order to forcibly enact the War Laws. It also overlaps the recent government handling of the arbitral extension of the retirement age of public prosecutors by amending the National Public Service Act to appoint a particular prosecutor as chief of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which was finally cancelled by strong public opinion. We are witnessing what might be the beginning of Suga’s dictatorial rule, which we must not condone as an unconstitutional act.
Zenroren will join with broader sectors of people in demanding that the rejection of appointments be withdrawn. It will also work together with opposition parties standing for constitutional democracy to defend constitutionalism and democracy so that politics will be guided by the Constitution.