July 10, 2017

Today, I want to talk about the Anti-Conspiracy Bill (共謀罪, きょうぼうざい, kyōbōzai), i.e. the ‘Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds’ that passed on June 15th, 2017.

Outline of the Law

The law allows authorities to target terror conspiracies. It criminalizes the plotting and committing of 277 acts, banning the procurement of funds or supplies and the surveying of a location in preparation for these offenses. A “group” is defined as two or more people, and the entire group can be charged if at least one member is found to be plotting a crime. The government claimed the need for passage of this law as a precondition for ratifying a UN convention against transnational organized crime.

The law bans the plotting of serious crimes, including terrorism, as well as lesser offenses such as follows:

  • Copying music
  • Conducting sit-ins to protest against the construction of apartment buildings
  • Using forged stamps
  • Competing in a motor boat race without a licence
  • Mushroom picking in conservation forests
  • Avoiding paying consumption tax

Controversial Points

On May 18, UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy, Joseph Cannataci, sent a letter to Prime Minister Abe criticizing the breadth of the legislation, including the wide range of crimes which people can be arrested for planning. He said in the letter, “I am concerned by the risks of arbitrary application of this legislation given the vague definition of what would constitute the “planning” … and given the inclusion of an overbroad range of crimes … which are apparently unrelated to terrorism and organized crime.”

As well, Japan Federation of Bar Associations has criticized how the law includes acts without obvious connection to terrorism or organized crime, such as sit-ins to protest construction of apartment buildings or copying music. LDP’s opposition DP leader Renho has stressed that the legislation violates freedom of thought. To speed up passage of the law, the LDP took a contentious step in skipping a vote in an upper house committee to move directly to a vote in the full upper house.

Why the Rush?

I am not so sure whether this is the beginning of a “new wave of mass surveillance in Japan” or a “surveillance culture” as Edward Snowden puts it,  but it has undoubtedly increased the surveillance power of police forces in Japan, and there is also no contention whatsoever that the bill should have gone through greater clarification and debate before passage.

What I am most worried about is the fact that the ruling bloc was in a hurry to pass this law, taking the controversial step of skipping a vote in the upper house committee. Hasn’t the ruling coalition misused their majority power in both houses to pass a bill without proper debate?

This is a bill that has an impact on one of the fundamental freedoms of a democracy–that is, the freedom of expression–as well as the right to privacy, and when such an important, fundamental right is being limited for the sake of collective security, the government, in my view, needs to be making greater efforts to check and review the bill.


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