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'Anti-conspiracy' law to take effect July 11 despite lingering concerns

Demonstrators against the "anti-conspiracy" legislation are seen in front of the Diet building in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward in this May 19, 2017 file photo. (Mainichi)

The revised Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds, which criminalizes preparation for terrorism and other crimes by changing the conditions that constitute conspiracy, will come into effect on July 11. Police and the Justice Ministry have already moved to monitor application of the law, though some remain concerned that the legislation could be abused by investigative authorities.

The government has maintained that the legislation -- commonly referred to as the "anti-conspiracy law" -- is necessary for Japan to become a party to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. It plans to submit its instrument of acceptance of the treaty to the U.N. secretary-general as early as the day the law takes effect.

On June 23, the National Police Agency (NPA) sent out a notice to prefectural police forces stating that the forces were to file reports on application of the law to the NPA for the time being, and that the reports should be sent when police are "about to conduct investigations." This was to ensure its apt application.

The revised law makes it possible to punish everyone involved in planning a crime when the crime is planned by two or more members of a criminal group as part of the group's activities, and at least one of them makes preparations for it. A total of 277 crimes are subject to the law, meaning it can be applied widely.

During Diet deliberations, opposition parties strongly resisted the legislation, saying that it could violate freedom of thought. Regarding the notice requiring prefectural police forces to report application of the law, a senior NPA official commented, "This kind of notice is extremely unusual, but various issues were pointed out in the Diet and we decided it was necessary for responsible judgments to be made."

The Ministry of Justice also sent out a notice to all district public prosecutors offices asking them to consider making audio and video recordings of suspect interrogations. Instructions from the justice minister requesting reports on application of the revised law are also to be issued. The NPA and the Ministry of Justice are thus taking on the role of checking application of the law.

So far, there have been no actual moves by investigators to apply the law. A high-ranking public prosecution official commented, "The sole aim of the revision was to conclude the treaty. I imagine that it will hardly ever be applied, as the conditions for doing so are too tough."

Still, concerns about possible abuse of the law have not disappeared. After the enactment of the revised law, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations released a statement in the name of its president Kazuhiro Nakamoto, stating, "Our various concerns have not been allayed. It is difficult to say there were sufficient deliberations on the relevance of the crimes the law covers and the necessity of further revisions. We will focus our attention on making sure the law is not applied arbitrarily, and make an effort to have the law scrapped."

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