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Anti-stalking law under fire after stabbing of Japanese idol singer

by

Staff Writer

The stabbing of 20-year-old female idol Mayu Tomita has sparked a discussion over the effectiveness of the anti-stalking law, which some experts say should include a clear statement on preventing the kind of online stalking the latest victim was facing.

The current anti-stalking law “cannot directly crack down on stalking on social networking websites” as it is not worded to include harassment via social media, Yohei Shimizu, a Tokyo lawyer well-versed in online defamation cases, said Monday.

According to media reports, 27-year-old Tomohiro Iwazaki, who was arrested Saturday for stabbing Tomita nearly two dozen times in the neck and chest, had apparently repeatedly sent messages to her Twitter account.

Police on Monday turned Iwazaki over to prosecutors on suspicion of attempted murder and violating the Firearm and Sword Control Law.

Tomita, who remains hospitalized in critical condition, had earlier visited a police station near her home in the Tokyo suburb of Musashino and asked them to stop Iwazaki harassing her online via social networking sites.

Although Tomita gave Iwazaki’s name and address to the police on May 9, they did not contact him, saying it was necessary to confirm that the messages were actually written by him. The police also failed to hand over the case to a unit tasked with investigating stalking on the grounds that the Twitter messages did not indicate an immediate threat, according to Kyodo News.

Tomita’s mother meanwhile had telephoned the Kyoto Prefectural Police on May 4 to ask them to do something about the online stalking, as Iwazaki apparently lived in Kyoto, but they told her to contact the police in Tokyo, where her daughter lives.

Attorney Shimizu said the police should have at least contacted Iwazaki regardless of whether they could confirm that the anonymous Twitter account belonged to him.

“Even if the person had said he had nothing to do with the Twitter account, a visit by the police could have served as a warning” and would likely have dissuaded Iwazaki from carrying out the attack, Shimizu said.

According to Kyodo, the Twitter account that is believed to belong to Iwazaki was created in January and was used to send friendly messages to Tomita at first. But it started to show aggressiveness toward her in February, when it demanded she have a “sincere relationship” with him. In one tweet, the writer said he was “furious,” while another tweet said, “It’s a radical idea to kill someone just because one is turned down.”

The same Twitter account holder said he sent a watch to Tomita sometime between January and February. It was apparently returned to the sender in April.

Iwazaki told the police he was furious that Tomita had returned the gift to him, according to Kyodo News.

The current anti-stalking law, revised in 2013, does not ban sending messages repeatedly on social media if it can be seen by other people, although it bans persistent one-on-one unwanted contact via telephone, fax and email, Shimizu said.

He said the law can also cover messages on social media if they are particularly abusive. But the police this time did not take the Twitter messages to be particularly threatening.

“Stalking on social media cannot be directly combatted with the current anti-stalking law. I believe it needs an explicit clause to regulate such harassment,” he said. “Otherwise, the law cannot function properly.”

Eiichi Mori, an Osaka-based lawyer, echoed Shimizu’s comments by saying the anti-stalking law as it currently stands has failed to achieve its intent — to prevent incidents before they happen.

“Laws need to be revised constantly so as to catch up with advancing technology,” Mori said. “It may be too late to revise the law after what happened, but it is still better than repeating the same tragedy.”