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Ruling coalition's hasty advance toward 'conspiracy' bill raises concerns

Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda answers a question from Seiji Osaka of the Democratic Party about criminalizing acts in preparation to carry out terrorist attacks and the like during a plenary session of the House of Representatives on April 6, 2017. (Mainichi)

Serious concerns have been raised over the ruling coalition's moves toward hasty deliberation of a bill that would criminalize "acts of preparations to commit crimes such as terrorism" by changing the conditions that constitute conspiracy.

The House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee is set to begin full-scale deliberations next week on the bill to revise the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds.

The ruling coalition has emphasized that the amendment would be effective in countermeasures against organized crimes such as terrorist attacks with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in mind.

However, opposition parties have voiced grave concern that the bill could allow law enforcement authorities to abuse their power, and they aim to have it scrapped. Three similar bills have been ditched in the past.

Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda told a lower house plenary session on April 6 that a count of preparation for crimes such as terrorist attacks, incorporated in the latest bill, "differs significantly from conspiracy counts in past bills, which would have criminalized the mere act of conspiracy."

Numerous questions about the details of the bill were asked at both chambers' budget committees even before the bill was submitted to the Diet on March 21.

However, Kaneda declined to answer these questions, saying, "I'll provide an explanation after the bill is submitted."

The largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) on March 30 listed up 40 questions that the justice minister had failed to clearly answer, and is poised to grill the government over the definition of "organized crime groups" and "actions preparing for the implementation of terrorist attacks, etc." as well as over whether there is a need to incorporate such a count in the legislation.

The government has explained that organizations that were carrying out legitimate activities would fall under "organized crime groups" -- to which a charge of preparing for terrorist attacks and the like would apply -- if the purpose of the organizations were to change to carrying out crimes.

Citing an example of members of an environmental conservation organization staging a sit-in, DP legislator Kensuke Onishi asked, "Who decides that the purpose of an organization has changed in such a way? Shouldn't it be the police?"

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) distributed a document outlining a count of preparations for terrorist attacks and the like to its legislators and other members. The LDP emphasized that international cooperation in preventing organized crimes such as terrorist attacks is indispensable when hosting the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. To that end, the LDP underscored the need to establish such a count for Japan to enter into the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Opposition parties including the DP have contended that Japan can sign the convention even without developing relevant legislation on conspiracy.

The LDP, however, has dismissed this contention, saying, "Japan could have entered into the convention under the previous administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan if there were no need to develop such domestic legislation. Opposition parties' criticism is irresponsible."

While a clash between the ruling and opposition parties is intensifying over the bill, critics have warned the governing bloc against hastily deliberating on it in the Diet.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe adopted a bill to revise the Penal Code and toughen punishments for sex offenders on March 7, earlier than the anti-organized crime amendment bill, but the ruling coalition prioritizes deliberations on the anti-conspiracy bill.

Legal scholar and former Keio University lecturer Yoshinori Nanbu pointed out that the government's attempt to hastily enact the anti-conspiracy bill has caused confusion in the Diet.

"It has been a customary practice for the Diet to deliberate bills in the order they are submitted to the legislature. Therefore, the Diet's handling (of the anti-conspiracy bill) is inappropriate. The government is trying to have the bill enacted even though the Diet schedule is tight because of the upcoming Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, causing confusion to the Diet," he said.

Countermeasures against terror have been high on the agenda at recent Group of Seven summit meetings.

A source close to the government said that Japan needs to enter into the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime for the prime minister to save face.

"At the Ise-Shima Summit last year, the prime minister was embarrassed because Japan, which was chairing the conference, had not signed the convention. It's a matter of whether he can save face," the source said.

The ruling coalition aims to have the bill clear the lower chamber as early as the beginning of May to make sure that it will become law during the current session to give momentum to the prime minister.

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