Source: The Daily Beast, by Jake Adelstein
On Thursday morning, Japan’s deceptively dubbed “anti-terrorism” bill was steamrolled into law by its parliament, after the ruling coalition gutted standard legislative protocol, avoiding more embarrassing questions about the bill known as the “criminal-conspiracy law.” It stipulates 277 crimes that police can arrest people for planning, or simply discussing. Technically, because social media is covered in the legislation, even liking a related tweet or retweeting it could now be grounds for arrest on conspiracy charges.
Ironically, none of the 277 crimes have to do with terrorism, despite the name of the law. However, if you were planning to hunt mushrooms illegally or stage a boat race without a license—well think again, evildoers. You’ll be stopped in your tracks.
The essence of the law is simple: It allows law-enforcers to arrest and prosecute those who plan and prepare crimes even if those crimes are not carried out. There are 277 specific crimes that can be prosecuted for conspiracy, and possibly even more if the law is loosely interpreted.
However, as the contents were debated in the parliament, it became clear that the legislation was not only terrifying in the latitude it gives police but also terribly written. Ministry of Justice officials admitted that people could be arrested and convicted for conspiring to illegally hunt mushrooms (forestry laws) or go fishing. Often they were stumped for answers. Japan’s Lawyer Federation also pointed out that other terrible crimes covered under the law include copyright violations—such as copying sheet music, or a sit-down protest opposing the building of a condominium.
Of course, we all know that music teachers, mushroom hunters, and anti-condominium radicals are dangers to society, but do we need to proactively jail them? Yes, of course, we may need to. At least in Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration shamelessly claimed the bill was necessary for Japan to comply with the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, a claim that U.N. experts ridiculed. The government then claimed it was needed to strengthen Japan’s counterterror measures before the 2020 Olympics. The legislation was originally dubbed the Criminal Conspiracy bill, but the name was changed to “Terrorism and Other Crime Preparations,” ostensibly to make it sound more palatable. The original bill had over 600 crimes. But as the Japanese Federation of Lawyers pointed out, “Even with a change in name, the bill is just as flawed and dangerous.” However, the rebranding did help get more favorable responses in public-opinion polls conducted after the bill was resubmitted.
In many other countries, empowering police to arrest people on such a wide range of pretexts might not be so bad, but in Japan authorities can hold a suspect for as long as 23 days, with no right for the accused to have a lawyer present before the decision to file charges. For those indicted, the conviction rate is close to 99 percent.