Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition on Friday rammed a contentious bill aimed at criminalizing conspiracy through the Lower House Judicial Affairs Committee amid fierce criticism it will lead to abuses of power by law enforcement.
An uproar broke out as the panel voted on the revised bill, with opposition politicians from the Democratic Party swarming — and at times shoving — Chairman Junji Suzuki in an apparent bid to physically prevent him from calling the vote.
“The vote is invalid!” and “You’re embarrassing!” they shouted at Suzuki.
The revised bill, which is backed by the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling coalition and conservative opposition party Nippon Ishin no Kai, is set to clear the Lower House as early as next Tuesday. The DP, the Japanese Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party jointly oppose it.
“I believe the revision is essential to today’s Japan. It will help improve our counterterrorism capabilities and ensure the safety of the Japanese people and our society,” besieged Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, who survived a no-confidence motion on Thursday, told reporters after the panel voted.
The bill would revise the anti-organized crime law and is purportedly aimed at permitting law enforcement to crack down on people suspected of being terrorists who conspire to commit crimes. It is expected to cover as many as 277 crimes.
The government says the revision is a prerequisite for Japan’s participation in a U.N.-designated convention against transnational organized crime (TOC). Abe has even declared that Japan can’t host the 2020 Olympics without it.
But critics call the bill a sinister sign of Japan’s transformation into a surveillance state, where even everyday acts could be misconstrued as preparation for a crime. For instance, withdrawing cash from banks might even be deemed as preparation for a crime, some critics have said.
On Friday, a throng of angry protesters held a large rally against the revision across from the Diet.
“I’m furious,” DP lawmaker Seiji Osaka told reporters after the vote. “This is absolutely unforgivable.”
The opposition remains unconvinced of Kaneda’s assertion that the revision will not affect “ordinary citizens,” but apply exclusively to members of anti-social organizations, such as yakuza syndicates and drug traffickers.
“There is absolutely no possibility that people unaffiliated with such organizations will be suspected of violating the revised law. Nor would they be subject to investigations by the police,” Kaneda told the committee.
But when asked for confirmation, National Policy Agency official Yasuhiro Shirakawa stopped short of giving the same clear-cut guarantee, saying only that intelligence-gathering activities by the police are being carried out to “fulfill the responsibility to ensure the public safety and order.”
“We’ve discussed a number of times whether ordinary people will be affected by the law, but I’m still not convinced,” Osaka told Kaneda ahead of the vote. “There are so many questions left unresolved and I’m absolutely opposed to its passage.”
The DP argues that instead of approving such a comprehensive and complicated revision that is bound to have multiple implications, Japan should pinpoint the types of preparation that need to be criminalized in order to join the TOC convention.
There are only two such crimes, it says: organized fraud and human trafficking.