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Editorial: Is charge of preparing terrorist attacks really needed?

The government is considering establishing a charge of preparing terrorist attacks or other organized crimes after narrowing down the conditions for determining a conspiracy.

The government's executive branch intends to submit a bill to the Diet during an extraordinary session in September. It seeks to incorporate a clause on a terrorist attack preparation charge within the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds.

The conspiracy charge, if established, would apply to cases in which multiple people consult over and agree to commit specific crimes. For three consecutive years from 2003, the government of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi submitted bills to the Diet to establish such a charge. However, all of these bills were scrapped as concerns persist that members of the general public could be punished for just vaguely talking about committing crimes.

The government has positioned its plan to establish the terrorist attack preparation charge as an anti-terrorism measure leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. But is its proposed revision necessary? The Diet needs to thoroughly debate this point.

It is true that the international situation with regard to terrorism has drastically changed from the time when Koizumi was in power. The Islamic State militant organization has launched frequent terrorist attacks across the world. Seven Japanese nationals were killed in a hostage crisis in Bangladesh this past July. And the government has placed top priority on measures to prevent such terrorist attacks in Japan.

At the end of last year, the government launched a unit tasked with gathering information on international terrorism. Senior officials apparently believe that the establishment of the conspiracy count would be an effective way to prevent terrorist attacks. Still, there have been no government moves over the past decade to establish the conspiracy charge. The latest move could give the public the impression that the government has taken advantage of interest in Olympic security in the wake of the recent festivities in Rio to establish such a change.

In 2000, the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime was adopted at the U.N. General Assembly. The pact urges the parties to establish conspiracy and other charges to crack down on serious transnational organized crimes. However, it was pointed out when the convention was drafted that the conspiracy charge might not be consistent with some parties' domestic legal systems. As such, the convention urges each party to enforce the pact in accordance with the basic principles of their respective domestic legislation.

Japan signed the convention and the Diet approved it in 2003. However, the government has not officially concluded the pact because the country has not yet established a conspiracy charge.

Japan's Penal Code has clauses stipulating punishments for people who prepare to commit some serious offenses. Some legal experts accordingly point out that Japan can officially become a party to the pact, noting that law enforcers can crack down on those involved in terrorist attacks and relevant crimes within the current legal framework. The question of whether the conspiracy charge is necessary is therefore a point of contention.

The government intends to narrow down offenses to which the charge of preparing for terrorist attacks and other organized crimes applies. Specifically, it is apparently considering applying the charge to those who take specific actions to prepare for crimes, in addition to engaging in discussions to commit them.

However, a charge of preparing for terrorist attacks or other organized crimes could be interpreted broadly. As with the scrapped bills, it is believed it could apply to over 600 types of offenses. Establishment of such a count would therefore drastically change the principles of the Penal Code, which applies to crimes that have already been committed, and thus have serious side-effects, even when taking drastic changes in the international terrorism situation fully into account.

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