A government-backed bill is slated to go before the Diet next month, potentially revising the definition of who can be arrested for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism as security concerns mount ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, government sources revealed Friday.
While a similar bill has been submitted to the Diet three times in the past only to be rejected due to public fears over the sweeping powers it could grant police, the new legislation would narrow the targets of authorities to “organized crime groups” — including terrorist groups — the sources said.
Earlier versions of the bill had not specified the law’s targets, instead referring merely to “groups,” something that had stoked fears that the law could be used to quell dissent.
In addition to conspiring to commit terrorist acts, those who “prepare” for such acts, including the soliciting of funds, will also be subjected to the law, the sources added.
Critics, however, argue a revision to the current law is unnecessary.
“There are already other laws, including a clause that penalizes those who plot or prepare to murder in the Penal Code,” said Hirofumi Uchida, professor of criminal law at Kobe Gakuin University. “A conspiracy law is not necessary.”
If the government claims that isn’t enough, it should present actual cases that aren’t subjected to the current law, he said.
“Otherwise, it could target civic groups as well, just like the public security preservation laws” before and during World War II that were aimed at silencing political dissent, he said.
Opposition lawmakers have also argued that the definitions of “plotting” and “conspiracy” remain vague and unclear. They are concerned the legislation could lead to abuses such as the targeting and arrest of ordinary citizens.
At a news conference Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended the planned revision when asked about the legislation.
“It is an important responsibility for the government to ensure the safety and security of its people,” he said.
In December 2000, Japan signed a United Nations treaty aimed at fighting global organized crime. More than 180 nations have ratified the pact so far, but Tokyo has balked at doing so due in part to the lack of similar domestic statutes.
But the Japan Federation of Bar Associations has criticized this stance, saying that the U.N. treaty can be ratified without the conspiracy clause.
In January 2015, Abe’s Cabinet was considering submitting the conspiracy crime legislation to the Diet but eventually gave up on the idea in order to prioritize the more controversial security-related bills, which were later passed on Sept. 19.
The Justice Ministry has long been pushing for codification of the conspiracy clause, though it has been short on details.
On its website, the ministry said the revised law will allow police to protect “people from heinous crimes committed by organized criminal groups,” including terrorist organizations.
Momentum for the change has grown following the November terrorist attacks in Paris, with senior ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers urging the government to add a revision to the organized crime punishment law.
“Japan has yet to ratify the treaty because a domestic law is not in place,” LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura said after the Paris attacks. “We need to deal with such matters now.”
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