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Editorial: Gov't proposal to criminalize 'conspiracy' too broad

A bill that includes "conspiracy" as a crime and has been scrapped three times in the past is about to be submitted, under a different name and conditions, to the upcoming ordinary session of the Diet set to convene on Jan. 20.

The bill proposes that those "preparing for terrorist attacks and other major organized crimes" be subjected to punishment.

A basic principle of Japan's criminal code is that one cannot be charged with a crime unless a crime has actually been committed and consequences from that crime have actually occurred. If the abovementioned bill is passed in the Diet, it will have significant repercussions on the entire legal system.

Of great concern is the fact that 676 crimes in their preparatory stages would be subject to punishment if the bill is passed. Of these, 167 crimes related to terrorism including murder, actions that pose danger to aerial navigation, and the spreading of toxic substances would fall under the new measure.

A broad range of crimes, including fraud and the import and export of narcotics, are subject to criminal charges under the bill. There are stipulations in the current criminal code that allow for the punishment of would-be perpetrators preparing to commit crimes, but they are exceptions to the rule.

Before the bill is submitted to the Diet, it will undergo screening by the ruling coalition. The bill's potential problems must thoroughly be brought to light through this process.

To counter organized crime that takes place across national borders, in 2000 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which went into effect in 2003. The Japanese government signed the convention, and the Diet approved it. International cooperation in stopping terrorism and other organized crime is only natural, and Japan should be a part of that united front.

Japan, however, has yet to ratify the treaty, citing an insufficient legal framework to do so. The convention requires party states to institute conspiracy charges for major crimes that draw punishments of at least four years in prison. To abide by the requirement, the Japanese government has, since 2003, repeatedly submitted "anti-conspiracy" bills to the Diet.

Because "organizations" were listed as being subject to "anti-conspiracy" bills submitted in the past, those bills were met with strong objections. The reasoning was that grassroots civic organizations and labor unions could become subject to investigations based on conspiracy allegations.

This time around, the bill limits the application of conspiracy charges to gangs and "other organized crime rings." It also included prerequisites for acts of preparation to be considered crimes -- such as consenting or making plans to commit a crime and the collection of funds to buy weapons. However, the conditions that must be fulfilled for an act to be considered a crime of conspiracy has not been revealed in detail. In other words, fears that basic human rights may be violated due to one-sided interpretations of incidents have yet to be dispelled.

That the bill seeks to apply criminal punishments not just to "terrorist attacks" but also the vaguely worded "other major organized crimes" is significant. This expression allows for a wide range of non-terrorist acts to be classified as conspiratorial crimes, and will be one of the most significant points of contention regarding the bill.

Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito appear to be exploring ways to narrow down the crimes that would be punishable under the bill. However, the government maintains that if the range of punishable crimes is reduced, Japan will not meet the requirements of the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Meanwhile, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) argues that it is possible for Japan to ratify the treaty under the current criminal code.

As long as such major differences in opinion exist, a conclusion on the matter must not be drawn in haste.

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