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Full-scale debate on 'anti-conspiracy' bill begins in Diet committee

Full-on debate on legal revisions that would criminalize "preparations to commit crimes such as terrorism" by changing the conditions that constitute conspiracy kicked off in the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee on April 19.

The bill to revise the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds is seen as the biggest point of contention between the ruling and opposition parties during the latter half of the ongoing Diet session. The ruling coalition says that the bill is designed to counter terrorism, but opposition lawmakers argue that it is a step toward a surveillance society.

The bill states that the crime of preparing to commit terrorist and other such acts applies to terrorist and other organized crime groups. A prerequisite of "acts of preparation" based on criminal plans has been added as well.

During debate on April 19, opposition Democratic Party (DP) lawmaker Seiji Osaka raised a question on the definition of a terrorist group, to which Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda replied, "It's an example of an organized crime group. We've made it clear that it doesn't apply to ordinary members of the public."

When Osaka asked if ordinary people could become subject to investigations depending on when probes started, the minister replied, "If they have no connection with organized crime groups, they will not be subject to investigations."

Toru Kunishige of ruling coalition partner Komeito asked about the meaning of "planning" for criminal activity as stipulated in the bill. Makoto Hayashi, director-general of the Criminal Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Justice, said the term referred to concrete and realistic agreement as a result of orders from members of a criminal organization or the designated placement of people. He said that a criminal charge would not apply to situations where a person was only vaguely thinking about committing a crime.

Yasufumi Fujino of the Japanese Communist Party touched on the possibility of voluntary investigations being conducted before a person had reached the stage of planning for a crime. Kaneda replied that voluntary investigations would be possible in cases where the probability of a crime being committed was high and the methods were deemed serious. Fujino questioned this stance, responding, "Preparation to an outsider is no different from daily activities. Wouldn't it be possible to conduct investigations from a whole variety of stages?

The number of crimes covered by the bill has been cut from 676 to 277, but DP legislator Shiori Yamao pointed out that it still covers the Forest Act, under which it is a crime to collect mushrooms in forest reserves. She went on to criticize the proposed revision, saying surveillance by investigative authorities would only grow stronger.

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