TOKYO, June 6 (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - Japan's military illegally gathered information on the activities of ordinary citizens in 2003 and 2004, including those who opposed the dispatch of Japanese troops to Iraq, Japan's Communist Party said on Wednesday.
The charges could prove a new headache for Japan's military, which has come under fire for leaked classified information on a missile defence system.
Japan's dispatch of 600 ground troops to the southern Iraqi city of Samawa on a reconstruction mission won praise from close ally the United States but was opposed by many at home for stretching the limits of Japan's pacifist constitution.
Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii told a news conference he had obtained copies of internal documents from a division of the Ground Self-Defence Force -- Japan's army in all but name -- recording surveillance activities carried out on ordinary citizens as well as journalists, photographers and artists.
The surveillance covered some 293 groups and individuals, including high school students, and in some cases mentioned specific names or included photographs taken at demonstrations, Shii said.
The period covered in the documents ranged from January 2003 to February 2004, Shii said, calling the surveillance an interference with free speech that violated the constitution and harked back to the censorship and military police in Japan before and during World War Two.
"Our party demands that the government make clear the activities of this military division and stop this sort of illegal surveillance immediately," he said in a statement.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said he was aware of Shii's news conference but did not know the details.
"Any information compiled in investigations in line with the law should naturally be accepted, so if that is the case there is generally no problem," he told a news conference.
A Defence Ministry spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the contents of Shii's news conference and statement were still being checked.
Japan's dispatch of ground troops to Samawa, their riskiest mission since World War Two, lasted for more than two years until last summer. Around 200 air force personnel have remained in Kuwait, from where they airlift supplies to the U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
Domestic approval for the mission rose after the soldiers came home without having fired a shot or having suffered any casualties.
Civilian and military police raided two navy bases in western Japan on Tuesday and questioned former trainees from the navy suspected of having received sensitive information on the high-tech Aegis radar system.