Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Japan's Proposed Anti-Conspiracy Bill Echoes Politics of its State Secrets Rule


Japan's lower house passed a controversial anti-conspiracy bill, which has been criticized broadly in Japan for enabling greatly expanded surveillance:
Lower house passes 'anti-conspiracy' bill at plenary session despite protests. The Mainichi, May 23, 2017, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170523/p2a/00m/0na/015000c

The House of Representatives on May 23 approved a controversial "anti-conspiracy" bill that would criminalize preparation for terrorism and other crimes by changing the conditions that constitute conspiracy, despite protests from main opposition parties.

The ruling coalition comprised of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito, as well as the opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) voted for the bill to revise the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds at a May 23 plenary session. The bill will now be referred to the House of Councillors for deliberation.
Resistance to the legislation has been ubiquitous:
Sasaki, Ryo. (May 22, 2017). Anti-conspiracy law will stifle society, warns cartoonist, 89. The Asahi Shimbun, http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201705220058.html

FUKUOKA--Eighty-nine-year-old Susumu Nishiyama has first-hand experience of Japan’s past mistakes and he fears that the contentious anti-conspiracy legislation, which critics say threatens free speech, could be history repeating itself.

The cartoonist is compelled to share his wartime experiences of freedom of expression being suppressed with young people to warn of the new legislation’s dangers.

On May 21, Nishiyama rushed to a protest rally in a park in central Fukuoka to oppose the anti-conspiracy legislation after hastily drawing a manga poster to hoist at the gathering. Many protesters at the rally denounced the legislation, which was pushed through two days earlier at a Lower House committee, despite widespread public outcry.

Although the government says the legislation proposes effective means to prevent organized crime, opponents argue it will likely lead to human rights violations concerning freedom of thought as the intended law would enable authorities to intensify surveillance. Nishiyama sees a parallel between the legislation and the notorious public security preservation law of 1925, as many demonstrators pointed out when they spoke up in the gathering of about 400.
Public opinion polls show low support for the legislation:
EDITORIAL: Anti-conspiracy bill a travesty of justice in light of public opinion. The Asahi Shimbun, May 20, 2017, http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201705200026.html

A recent Asahi Shimbun poll highlighted the lack of broad public support for the anti-conspiracy legislation that is being considered by the Diet.

In the survey, 63 percent of respondents said they didn’t know the content of the legislation, while 64 percent answered “no” to the question whether it should be enacted during the current Diet session. Moreover, 78 percent replied that the government’s explanation about the legislation was insufficient.
The legislation is being "pushed through" despite low levels of public support and widespread activism against it. The main concern in Japan is that "ordinary people" will be subject to surveillance:
Railroaded 'anti-conspiracy' bill fails to balance public safety and individual rights. The Mainichi, May 20, 2017, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170520/p2a/00m/0na/008000c#cxrecs_s

The biggest point of contention -- whether "ippanjin" (ordinary people) will be subject to investigations under the anti-conspiracy law -- has baffled even Justice Ministry officials, because of how it has been used and the different contexts in which the expression has been mentioned.

The government has repeatedly said that unlike "anti-conspiracy" bills that have been scrapped three times in the past, the bill currently under deliberation explicitly notes that "organized crime groups" are subject to conspiracy charges. Therefore, "ordinary people who have no ties to organized crime groups will not come under suspicion and thus investigation."

However, both the DP and the JCP have argued that without investigations, there is no telling if one would come under suspicion or not, meaning that "ordinary people" would be subject to conspiracy-related investigations.
Concerns expressed about the anti-conspiracy bill echo many of the same concerns expressed against the State Secrets Act that was passed after the Fukushima disaster. Here is an excerpt from an editorial describing concerns with the State Secrets law:
The Mainichi (25, December). As I See It: State secrets law goes into effect, what now? http://mainichi.jp/english/english/perspectives/news/20141225p2a00m0na004000c.html

The more one reads the law, the more problems emerge. Twenty-three categories of secrets (55 under the operation guidelines) are named, but it's difficult to draw a clear distinction between secrets and non-secrets. One is left with the impression that information the administration finds inconvenient could be buried.

The designation of secrets is renewed every five years, for a maximum of 30 years, and at times 60 years. In some cases, the designation can be extended for even longer, if the information is deemed an exception.

The maximum penalty for leaking secrets is 10 years' imprisonment. Until now under the National Public Service Act, those charged with violating confidentiality requirements faced a maximum penalty of one year in prison, and those charged with leaking defense-related secrets were subject to a maximum of five years in prison, so the penalty has toughened dramatically under the state secrets law.

Punishments for those who try to acquire secrets are harsh, too. If authorities determine that one has attempted, conspired to effect, induced or incited information leakages, one can face up to five years in prison.....
Combined with the State Secrets Law, Japan's proposed anti-conspiracy bill will further erode the space in society for free thought and critical engagement with public policy. Of course, these are no doubt the intent of this type of legislation. Read more here:
Majia's Blog: Japan's Open Society in Crisis
Majia's Blog: Japan's State Secrets Law Goes into Effect  
Majia's Blog: Snowden Alleges Japan's State Secrets Law Was ... 
Majia's Blog: Japan on Way Down Slippery Slope of Fascism






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