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The Justice Ministry is considering reviewing the statutory penalty for online slandering after the death of professional wrestler and reality show cast member Hana Kimura, who was the victim of such abuse.

The ministry’s move is in response to increasing calls for toughening the penalty from slander victims and others.

Kimura, then 22, died in an apparent suicide in May last year after seeing many insulting comments on Twitter over her behavior on the popular reality television show “Terrace House.”

Tokyo prosecutors recently gave summary indictments to two men for posting such comments. The Tokyo Summary Court fined each ¥9,000.

One of the two was identified because he offered to apologize to the bereaved family. Some pundits expected he would not be indicted because of the apology.

“Even careless posts may make people want to die. We want internet users to know that slander is a crime,” a senior prosecutor said, explaining why the man got the summary indictment.

The statutory penalty for insulting people is less than 30 days in jail or a fine of less than ¥10,000.

“It doesn’t fit the times. It’s necessary to toughen the penalty for anonymous slander,” an investigative source said.

The ministry started work on the possible review in June last year. So far, it has investigated past cases and foreign examples.

It is still uncertain when the ministry will be able to refer the matter to the Legislative Council. It is taking its time because stiffer penalties could have an affect the freedom of speech.

“Those in power may take undue advantage of it and file criminal complaints against citizens critical of them,” said lawyer Satoshi Fukazawa, an expert on issues related to online slander.

“The scope (of the penalty) should not include criticism related to politics. Only excessive human rights violations should be punished,” said Ayano Kunimitsu, a House of Representative lawmaker.

“We can’t leave those silently suffering unattended any longer,” said Kunimitsu, who leads the secretariat of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s project team on measures to combat online slander.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 119 in Japan for immediate assistance. The TELL Lifeline is available for those who need free and anonymous counseling at 03-5774-0992. You can also visit telljp.com. For those in other countries, visit www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html for a detailed list of resources and assistance.

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