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PM Suga refuses to appoint 6 scholars to Science Council of Japan in unprecedented move

The Science Council of Japan building in Tokyo's Minato Ward (Mainichi/Ayumu Iwasaki)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga refused to appoint six scholars as new members of the Science Council of Japan, a representative organization of the Japanese scientist community that makes policy recommendations independent from the government, it has been learned.

    This is the first case where a prime minister did not appoint those nominated by the council, known as "the academics' Diet" which maintains a high degree of independence, since the current system was introduced in fiscal 2004.

    While the Suga government has not disclosed the reasons for the refusal, some of the six scholars have voiced opposition to the controversial security legislation enacted in 2015 and the revised organized crime punishment law that established charges for conspiracy passed in 2017. Experts see the latest action by the government as a political intervention in academic freedom.

    Under the Act on Science Council of Japan, candidates for new members are shortlisted from scientists who have achieved outstanding research results and other achievements, and are recommended to the prime minister. Based on the council's endorsements, the prime minister appoints 210 members, who each have a six-year term, and half of the membership faces reelection every three years.

    According to sources close to the situation, of 105 candidates recommended to Suga, constitutional professor Ryuichi Ozawa at Jikei University School of Medicine, administrative law professor Masanori Okada at Waseda University, criminal law professor Takaaki Matsumiya at Ritsumeikan University, Japanese modern history professor Yoko Kato at the University of Tokyo, political science professor Shigeki Uno also at the University of Tokyo, and philosophy professor Sadamichi Ashina at Kyoto University were not appointed.

    As the terms for half of the members were to expire at the end of September, the council submitted recommendation letters for the 105 candidates on Aug. 31. But the list of appointees that was shown to the council's secretariat at the end of September only had 99 names. The 99 scientists were appointed as new council members on Oct. 1.

    Juichi Yamagiwa, Kyoto University president who headed the council until his tenure expired on Sept. 30, expressed a sense of crisis during the council's general meeting held in Tokyo the following day, stating, "The council has maintained its autonomy since it was founded (in 1949). The appointment refusals without any explanation will greatly affect the council's existence." The body has reportedly demanded in writing that Suga provide clarification as to why some recommended people were rejected.

    Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference on Oct. 1, "I will refrain from commenting on the reasons for selections of individuals as they are related to personnel affairs. This will not immediately lead to a violation of academic freedom."

    (Japanese original by Tomohiro Ikeda, Mirai Nagira and Ayumu Iwasaki, Science & Environment News Department)

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