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"Conspiracy bill" to be thrust into law through rare Diet tactic

Contentious legislation to criminalize the planning of serious
crimes is set to be enacted by Japan's parliament following the
ruling coalition's unorthodox choice Wednesday to skip an upper house
committee vote on the bill.

The bill is likely to be put to a plenary session of the upper
house, where it is certain to pass on a vote by the ruling parties'
majority, after the coalition's majority in the upper house steering
committee voted Wednesday evening to bypass the judicial affairs
committee where the bill was being debated.

While technically allowed, the move circumvents the conventional
legislative process.

Lawmakers from the main opposition Democratic Party expressed
outrage earlier Wednesday at the prospect of the ruling parties using
the tactic, pledging to respond with "every possible measure,"
including a potential no-confidence motion against Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe's Cabinet.

The bill, a reworking of three previous failed bills that had
sought to introduce a conspiracy charge, would amend the law on
organized crime to punish members of terrorist groups or other
organized criminal groups for the planning and preparation of 277
different crimes, ranging from arson to copyright violation.

Opponents of the "conspiracy bill" say it could serve as a
vehicle for the suppression of civil liberties, including excessive
state surveillance under the auspices of determining whether civic
groups fit within the legislation's scope.

The Abe administration, meanwhile, insists it is an essential
legal tool both to thwart terrorism at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and
Paralympics and to allow Japan to ratify the U.N. Convention against
Transnational Organized Crime, which the country signed in 2000.

The bill's journey through the Diet has been accompanied by
protests by civic groups and scrutiny from overseas, including from
the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to privacy, who warned last
month it could lead to undue restrictions on privacy and freedom of
expression due to its potentially broad application.

Abe dismissed the concerns raised in letters by Joseph
Cannataci, saying in parliament they were "lacking balance in the
extreme" and stressing that the rapporteur does not represent the
views of the United Nations.

The opposition parties have tried to impede the bill's passage,
including by submitting Tuesday a censure motion against Justice
Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, which was voted down by the ruling
coalition's majority in the upper house Wednesday.

The Democratic Party and Japanese Communist Party claimed Kaneda
is unqualified to be a Cabinet minister in light of his handling of
the deliberations on the bill.

The committee bypass tactic has been used four times in the
lower house and 18 times in the upper house, including in June 2007,
during Abe's first stint in power, to revise the law on public
servants to combat the entrenched practice of bureaucrats landing
post-retirement jobs in sectors they used to oversee. (June 14)

Protesters gather in front of the Diet building in Tokyo on June 13, 2017, to stage a rally against a controversial bill that would criminalize the planning of serious crimes, arguing the legislation could lead to excessive state surveillance and the suppression of civil rights.