TOKYO (AP) — Scholars who had their recommendations to join Japan's national academy denied by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Friday that the rejection was unconstitutional.
Suga’s refusal to approve the appointments of six professors out of a slate of 105 to the state-funded Science Council of Japan has drawn accusations from some that it is an impingement on academic freedoms.
The scholars, whose rejections surfaced on Oct. 1, included constitutional and law professors. They said the prime minister's rejection were unconstitutional.
“Political interference over the council membership destroys the principle of academic freedom,” Masanori Okada, a law professor at Waseda University in Tokyo and one of the six scholars, said at a news conference in Tokyo.
The Science Council of Japan is known as the top national academy that advises and checks government policies. Half of its 220 members are renewed every three years, recommended by the council and then approved by the prime minister.
Suga has not given any explanation for why he rejected the six apart from saying that his decision was legal and that the group of academics that advises and checks government policies should be acceptable to the public.
The six academics were known to have previously criticized controversial government policies, such a 2015 law allowing Japanese troops to defend the country's allies in international disputes.
Takaaki Matsumiya, a Ritsumeikan University law professor and one of those rejected, told the news conference that Suga reinterpreted Article 15 of the constitution regarding appointments of public servants “in a way he can appoint or dismiss any public servants just as he wishes."
“I find this extremely dangerous,” he said.
Hundreds of academic groups have issued statements protesting the rejection of the scholars.
Opposition lawmakers are expected to demand Suga give a full explanation for his move when parliament reconvenes next week.
The flap looks unlikely to balloon into a serious crisis for his government.
The council, set up in 1949, has repeatedly opposed military technology research at universities, most recently in 2017. Its objections to government funding for such research is contrary to efforts by Suga's predecessor, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to build up Japan’s military capability.
Many Japanese, especially academics, are wary of the potential for the abuse of power given the country’s history of militarism and anti-communist campaigns after World War II.
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