Protestors rally at Diet as conspiracy law is rammed through

Kyodo

A controversial law to criminalize the planning of certain crimes that was steamrolled through the Diet early Thursday provoked large protests by opponents who say it could lead to abuse of power and curtail freedom of expression.

In interviews at the rally and across the country, supporters and opponents spoke out about the controversial conspiracy law. While some feel the law is needed to ensure safety against terrorism, others warned the hastily deliberated law has a potential impact on personal freedom.

The government claims the law is only targeted at terrorists and criminal groups, but opponents, including legal experts, counter that it is vague in defining what constitutes a terrorist group and that expanded information-gathering by police may be a slippery slope to a surveillance society.

Around 5,000 people gathered in front of the Diet building on Wednesday for a rally that continued through Thursday morning, chanting slogans such as “this is autocratic,” and “never allow a surveillance society.”

“Peaceful demonstrations could be prohibited for being viewed as terrorism,” said Miyuki Masuyama, a 54-year-old woman from Ibaraki Prefecture, who joined the rally. “Our freedom of expression will be threatened.”

In Osaka, Tetsuya Ueno, a 39-year-old office worker, said he believes “the bill is necessary for Japan’s safety and security.”

As reports of the law’s enactment emerged, many demonstrators remaining at Thursday morning’s rally at the Diet expressed frustration with the lack of thorough deliberations and some even reacted with rage, saying, “this is unacceptable,” and “our democracy has died.”

Some also voiced anger and concern as the ruling bloc skipped an Upper House committee vote and forced the bill through the plenary session.

At the rally, Shoji Harashima, a 68-year-old stage sound designer, criticized the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito.

“The ruling bloc did not properly gain understanding for enacting the law,” Harashima said. “It was saying it will carefully explain the bill but that was a total lie. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration is getting complacent because of a high approval rating.”

Among younger people interviewed across the country, Takehiro Kawashiri, a 19-year-old student at Chiba University, said it would be “disgusting” if thoughts became targeted in investigations.

“The law could encourage paranoia that we might be watched,” he said. “It might be difficult to freely express our opinions.”

But Moka Matsumoto, a 15-year-old high school student in Osaka, welcomed the law.

“We are living in an era with terrorist attacks and Tokyo will be hosting the 2020 Olympics,” Matsumoto said. “So I think the most important thing is safety.”

The rarely used tactic to bypass a committee vote allowed the ruling coalition to avoid having to extend the current Diet session, set to end Sunday, at a time when the administration faces intensified scrutiny amid corruption allegations.

The prime minister has come under fire over allegations about preferential treatment for the creation of a new department at a university run by a close friend as well as dubious ties with another private school operator that purchased state-owned land at a dramatically reduced price.

The law’s railroading “probably came with the intention to cloud the issue of Kake Gakuen (the university operator) and Moritomo Gakuen (the school operator),” a 45-year-old woman from the city of Yokohama said at the Diet rally. “The government is fooling its citizens.”

Demonstrations were also held in other cities, including in Fukushima and Kagoshima prefectures, where rallies drew about 500 people each.