law enacted to punish planning of crimes
Japan's parliament enacted Thursday contentious legislation to
criminalize the planning of serious crimes, which the government says
will help thwart terrorism but opponents claim could lead to the
suppression of civil liberties and excessive state surveillance.
The amendment to the law on organized crime cleared a vote in a
plenary session of the House of Councillors, or upper house, after
the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito took
the unorthodox step on Wednesday of bypassing an upper house
The choice to circumvent the normal legislative process
effectively allowed the coalition to avoid having to extend the
current Diet session, set to end on Sunday, at a time when corruption
allegations against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have prompted
heightened scrutiny of the Abe administration.
Opposition parties have said documents shared in the education
ministry imply that Abe had a hand in a decision to approve a
university project in a specially deregulated economic zone so as to
benefit one of his close friends.
"Is it that you don't want (the allegations) to be covered any
more than this? Is that why you've embarked on the ultimate form of
railroading (by bypassing the committee)?" Democratic Party leader
Renho said while speaking against the amendment.
"We want to use this law appropriately and effectively to
protect the public's lives and property," Abe told reporters at his
office on Thursday morning.
Under the new law, members of "terrorist groups or other
organized crime groups" can be punished for carrying out specific
actions in preparation for 277 different crimes.
The Abe administration framed the law as an essential tool for
thwarting terrorist attacks, of particular importance as Tokyo
prepares to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, and as necessary
to allow Japan to ratify the 2000 U.N. Convention against
Transnational Organized Crime.
But opponents, including legal experts, warned it could pave the
way to suppression of free speech, invasive state surveillance and
arbitrary punishment of civic groups and labor unions.
Opponents called it the "conspiracy bill" in a reference to
three similarly worded bills that had sought to introduce a
conspiracy charge. None of those bills had made it through the Diet.
Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda insisted Thursday the law has
been designed to dispel concerns brought up about those previous
bills, as it "is expressly limited to organized criminal groups,
applicable crimes are listed and clearly defined and it applies only
once actual preparatory actions have taken place."
The law serves as a fundamental shift in Japan's penal code,
which previously applied penalties only after crimes had actually
Joseph Cannataci, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to
privacy, warned last month that the law could lead to undue
restrictions of privacy and freedom of expression due to its
potentially broad application. The Abe administration publically
dismissed his concerns.
While lawmakers quarreled late into the night on Wednesday, a
throng of protesters -- about 5,000, according to an organizer's
count -- gathered in front of the Diet building, objecting to the
"dictatorial" tactics used to pass the law and its potential
future protest against the government.
Opinion polling has shown a split over the law among voters,
suggesting they have not been satisfied with the defense offered by
the government and ruling parties in response to opposition concerns
the law could lead to a surveillance society.
In a Kyodo News national poll late last month, taken after the
bill passed the lower house committee stage, 39.9 percent of
respondents were in favor of it and 41.4 percent opposed.
The question of whether the bill needed to be enacted during the
current Diet session prompted a less divided response, with 56.1
percent of respondents saying it was unnecessary compared to 31.0
percent saying it should be enacted within that timeframe.
The ruling parties' tactic of bypassing a committee vote and
taking a bill straight to a session of a whole Diet chamber is rarely
used, although technically allowed.
Wataru Takeshita, the LDP's Diet affairs chief, told reporters
Thursday morning the bypass tactic was used because "we want those
the opposition parties to reflect on their habit of getting in the
way of questions and answers (in parliament)."
The Democratic Party and three other opposition parties had
agreed to pursue all possible means of impeding the bill.
They submitted Wednesday evening a no-confidence motion against
the Abe Cabinet, which was eventually rejected in a plenary session
of the House of Representatives early Thursday.
The new law is expected to come into effect on July 11,
according to the Justice Ministry.
A less controversial amendment bill that would strengthen the
penal code's punishment of sex offenses is likely to pass a vote in
an upper house committee later Thursday and be enacted in a plenary
session on Friday, removing the remaining justification for an
extension to the current Diet session. (June 15)