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Editorial: Changes in 'anti-conspiracy' bill explanation need clarifying in Diet

The House of Representatives launched deliberations at a plenary session on April 6 on a bill to criminalize "acts of preparations to commit crimes such as terrorism" by changing the conditions that constitute conspiracy.

The largest point of contention in deliberations in the Diet between the ruling and opposition parties will be whether such a legislative measure is indispensable in signing the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Conflicting views on the matter can be attributed to a lack of consistency in the government's explanation of the bill.

The convention requires parties to legislate a conspiracy count for serious crimes for which offenders face at least four years in prison. The government had previously claimed that more than 600 types of crimes were subject to the conspiracy count, and that the number could not be decreased. However, the types of crimes subject to conspiracy charges have been more than halved to 277 under the current government-sponsored bill.

A Foreign Ministry official in charge of the bill explained to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party Judicial Affairs Division last month that the executive branch had previously claimed that the types of crimes could not be decreased because it had taken the risk of being unable to sign the treaty too seriously.

The legislative branch must grill the executive branch on how such a judgment came about.

The convention allows parties to develop legislation that corresponds to their domestic circumstances and to decline signing on to some of the clauses that they cannot abide by. Moreover, those who have taken preparatory actions to commit over 70 types of serious crimes, which have not even developed into abortive attempts, can be punished under current legislation as an exception. Opposition parties, therefore, argue that Japan can sign the treaty under current legislation.

The executive branch should offer a sincere clarification on why its explanation on the core part of the bill has changed over time. The Diet should start off its deliberations on the bill by addressing inconsistencies in the executive branch's explanation.

If the executive branch continues to maintain that Japan cannot sign the convention under the current legislation, as opposition parties claim is possible, then it is the executive branch's responsibility to prove that.

If the government can sign the accord even after reducing the number of the types of crimes covered by conspiracy clauses, the legislative branch should also discuss whether the number of the types of crimes subject to conspiracy charges, at 277, is appropriate. The 277 crime types include offenses that appear irrelevant to terrorism.

Under the conspiracy bill, there's a risk that people's thoughts could be subject to surveillance depending on how law enforcers apply the legislation. Attention should be paid to whether Diet deliberations can dispel such fears.

It is difficult to define what constitutes organized crime groups, which are subject to punishments under the bill. The government has emphasized that the bill differs significantly from ones that have been scrapped in the past, in that specific actions taken in preparation to carry out crimes are conditions for constituting conspiracy under the current bill. However, questions remain about whether law enforcers would be given too much room to interpret actions as preparation for carrying out crimes.

Numerous challenges lie ahead. The Diet has a grave responsibility to resolve various concerns about the proposed legislation.

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