The Lower House began formal debate Thursday on a contentious conspiracy bill that would punish the planning of certain crimes, ostensibly in the name of counterterrorism.
The government says the bill revamps three previous conspiracy bills that flopped amid concerns they could lead to an invasive surveillance state and to the arbitrary persecution of civic groups.
The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito are aiming to get the bill passed by the powerful lower chamber by the end of the month so it can be enacted as law before the Diet closes in June.
The opposition parties contend that the updated version of the bill, which would amend the law on organized crime, remains dangerous and have vowed to fight it tooth and nail.
In the latest version, the charge of conspiracy has been reworded as “planning terrorism and similar acts.” The bill restricts the application of the planning charge to “organized criminal groups,” whereas previous versions just applied to “groups” in general.
The proposed charge would apply to groups of two or more people found to have planned one of the 277 listed offenses, with at least one of them having made specific preparations such as procuring supplies or funds or checking out a location.
The government says the move is necessary to protect the 2020 Olympic Games from terrorism and has stressed that the punishments it would introduce would not be applicable to “ordinary citizens.”
But government officials have also said that civic groups who initially carry out activities with no criminal element could later be targeted if they undergo a transformation in character.
Opponents say the surveillance required to detect such a change would itself compromise human rights.
The main opposition Democratic Party and three smaller allies argue that the tweaks to the updated bill are insufficient to dispel concerns that it could grant investigative bodies arbitrary search powers.
Opponents also say that the list of 277 applicable offenses is too extensive. It was pared down from an initial list of 676 crimes following pressure from within the ruling coalition.
The bill was brought to the Lower House after the chairman of its steering committee, a lawmaker with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP, exercised his discretion to set the debate schedule.
The Democratic Party held the first meeting of its own task force on the bill on Thursday morning. Earlier Thursday, the party’s Diet affairs chief said it “must raise a great national uproar” over the bill.
“We will go after Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda in thorough deliberations,” Kazunori Yamanoi told a news conference.