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UN body calls on Japan to improve protection of press freedoms

GENEVA (Kyodo) -- A U.N. body on Thursday called on Japan to take steps to better protect press freedoms as concerns about the country's laws aimed at curtailing leaks of state secrets could hinder the work of journalists.

    In another of the 218 non-legally binding recommendations on Japan's human rights record released by the U.N. Human Rights Council's working group, Tokyo was urged to apologize and pay compensation to "comfort women" forced to work in Japan's World War II military brothels.

    The recommendations reflected the views of some 105 countries. Of the issues raised, the U.N. council will adopt those that have been accepted by the country in question at a plenary session around March 2018.

    In relation to freedom of the press in Japan, the recommendation called on the country to amend Article 4 of the broadcasting law that gives the government authority to suspend broadcasting licenses of TV stations not considered "politically fair."

    Japan had already attracted criticism, in particular from David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, over its law called the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, which came into force in 2014.

    Under the law, civil servants or others who leak designated secrets could face up to 10 years in prison, and those who instigate leaks, including journalists, could be subject to prison terms of up to five years.

    In his report, Kaye noted that the law may be arbitrarily enforced as subcategories under which information may be designated as secret are "overly broad."

    On the issue of "comfort women," raised at the request of South Korea and China, the recommendation urged Japan to promote fair and accurate historical education, including the women's stories, and to apologize and compensate victims.

    The recommendation also said Japan should abolish or suspend the death penalty, reflecting calls from European Union countries, and continue to provide support to those affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis caused by the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In particular, a directive to address health issues faced by pregnant mothers and children was noted.

    The U.N. Rights Council is mandated to "undertake a universal periodic review" of whether countries are meeting their human rights obligations and commitments.

    The examination is conducted on all 193 members of the United Nations in periodic cycles of a few years. The latest review was the third for Japan.

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