The Abe administration has reportedly started preparations for introducing the “crime of conspiracy” by revising the law on the punishment of organized crime and the control of proceeds resulting from crime.

Although it has not been decided when a revision bill will be submitted to the Diet, there is the danger that it will give the government a strong weapon to control civic movements, especially those that oppose government policies.

The recently enacted state secrets law will not only greatly limit people’s access to government information but also punish those who try to get secret information even if they didn’t know it was designated as secret. The introduction of the crime of conspiracy will further weaken freedoms that have already been hollowed out by the secrecy law. So it is important for citizens to start a widely based action to stop this move by the administration.

If the crime of conspiracy is introduced, one could be punished for joining others to plan a crime even if it is not actually carried out or even if no concrete preparations have been made — a huge departure from the current principle that arrests can be made only when a crime has actually been committed or attempted.

In the past, the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito administration, including the first Abe administration in 2006, submitted three similar bills on criminal conspiracy to the Diet. All of them were killed because of the efforts of the opposition parties and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. They feared that the bills’ loose definition of conspiracy could lead to abuse.

Judging from these earlier bills, the crime of conspiracy will likely cover more than 600 types of crimes punishable by at least four years of imprisonment at present, including murder and burglary.

Citizens need to remember that LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba only recently equated demonstrations against the state secrets bill with acts of terrorism and that the law already has a provision to sentence people who “conspire,” “incite” or “instigate” the leaking of designated secrets to up to five years in prison — even if the secrets have not been leaked.

It is inevitable that conspiracy investigations will widely employ informers as well as wiretapping, including the monitoring of email communications. Thus the crime of conspiracy could be used to suppress civic movements, serving as a tool to violate freedoms of speech, thought and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution.

The government will argue that the enactment of a bill to introduce the crime of conspiracy is needed for Japan to ratify the 2000 United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which Japan signed in December that year.

But the bill submitted in 2006 by the first Abe administration covered as many as 615 different types of crimes, including violations of the Road Traffic Law, the Corporate Tax Law, the Employment Security Law and the Public Offices Election Law. It is clear that to include such a wide range of crimes is incongruous with the aims of the U.N. convention, which targets crimes that are transnational in nature and involve criminal organizations.

The crime of conspiracy bill is the Abe administration’s second attack on citizens’ freedoms, following the state secrets law. Citizens must actively oppose the administration’s moves.

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