A contentious bill that would criminalize conspiracy to commit terrorism has been pared down to include less than half of the 676 acts, behaviors or crimes originally targeted, a source close to the matter said Friday.
The bill would amend the law on organized crime to add a charge of making preparations for terrorism.
Bills of a similar nature have failed in the Diet in recent years amid heavy criticism such a law could be used by authorities as a front to abuse human rights, suppress civic groups and arbitrarily punish people who have committed no wrongdoing.
The reworked bill, which specifies 277 punishable crimes, is expected to win Cabinet approval early next month so it can be submitted to the Diet. The government claims that enacting a conspiracy law is needed to combat terrorist plots ahead of the 2020 Olympics.
The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meanwhile says a conspiracy law is needed for Japan to ratify the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, adopted in 2000.
The U.N. convention applies to “serious crimes,” which it defines as those punishable by a maximum of four years or more behind bars.
The previous draft of the bill proposed 676 potential offenses for criminalization as conspiracy, but according to the source, the ruling coalition’s junior member, Komeito, asked that the bill exclude offenses that are only loosely related to organized crime, as well as offenses that cannot be planned in advance, such as crimes resulting from negligence.
The government identified 167 crimes central to the bill that can be directly linked to planning terrorist acts, the source said.
The Justice Ministry now says that the bill will apply to civic groups that undergo a transformation in character — even if they had previously been carrying out activities with no criminal element, according to documents presented to a Diet committee Thursday.
Government officials have previously stressed that the bill will be worded so that its designation of organized crime groups cannot be applied to “ordinary people.”
“We can’t protect the public’s safety or peace of mind if we don’t make (the bill) applicable to groups that have turned into those that commit crimes,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday.
In a Lower House Budget Committee session Friday, Abe referred to now-defunct Aum Shinrikyo, the cult that perpetrated the fatal 1995 sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway system.
“At first, they were recognized as a religious entity. But they changed to a criminal group,” Abe said. “At the point when they changed, its members aren’t ordinary citizens any more and it’s clear they would be subject to the legislation.”
Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda said in a Diet session earlier this month that only groups that have made decisions leading to a sustained pattern of criminal activity would be recognized as organized crime groups under the new bill.