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Editorial: Inconsistent gov't explanations on 'anti-conspiracy' bill stand out

The Cabinet has approved a so-called "anti-conspiracy" bill incorporating revisions to the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds to make preparations for terrorist acts a crime.

The government previously submitted three related bills establishing a new crime of "conspiracy," but they were scrapped. The latest bill's name has been changed, but there is no change to the fact that it could be widely applied to the planning stages of organized crime.

The government says that such legislation is essential for Japan to enter the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. There is certainly significance in entering into the treaty. It is necessary for international society to join hands.

The biggest issue is whether the establishment of a law that makes preparations for terrorist acts a crime is necessary for the conclusion of this treaty.

The convention requests that signatories provide legislation to punish agreement (conspiracy) in connection with serious crimes. But stipulations on such punishment wade into the territory of people's thoughts. Depending on how investigations are handled, the lives of members of the public could be threatened.

A principle of Japan's penal code is to make acts subject to punishment at the point that criminal activity begins. Exceptions exist for the planning of murder and the plotting of rebellions and other serious crimes, for which attempted acts can be punished. But the number of such crimes is limited to about 70.

The latest legislation marks a great departure from this principle.

The treaty allows legislation to be prepared in accordance with domestic legislation in each country. That being the case, Japan's opposition parties including the Democratic Party have argued that the treaty could be concluded under existing legislation. The government, on the other hand, says that existing legislation is insufficient for conclusion of the treaty.

Information that the government submitted to the Diet shows that of the 35 nations belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), four had established new laws criminalizing conspiracy at the time they concluded the treaty. The rest responded with pre-existing domestic legislation. How does the government view this fact?

Why does Japan need extra legislation to conclude the treaty? The opinions of legal scholars and other experts are divided. First the government should carefully explain the issue and make this a platform for discussion.

In any case, inconsistencies in the government's explanations stick out. The first major issue coming apart at the seams is the number of crimes subject to punishment under the law. The number of serious crimes falling under the treaty's designation of four years imprisonment or a heavier penalty numbers 676, and the government has explained that these can't be sorted. But responding to requests from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's junior coalition partner Komeito, the number of crimes was whittled down to 277. This move doesn't match up with the government's previous explanations.

It is furthermore incomprehensible that when resubmitting the legislation, the government raised an anti-terror banner whenever it faced opposition. The purpose of the treaty is to punish such acts as money laundering by the mafia. Bringing up terrorism countermeasures for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that "it's not going too far to state that we can't hold (the games) without preparing the legislation." Surely this constitutes manipulation of the public's impression, which Abe himself criticizes.

The conditions relating to conspiracy that have been narrowed down are also a cause for concern. For example, is there actually no way the designation of organized criminal groups could extend to ordinary citizens? The government has repeatedly stated that the crime of conspiracy is a separate thing, but clearly the legislation is an extension of conspiracy as a crime.

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