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Editorial: Make criteria clear for crimes subject to 'anti-conspiracy' bill

The government has concluded that 277 crimes would be subject to the so-called "anti-conspiracy" bill -- or a bill that would criminalize the "act of preparations to commit crimes such as terrorism" by changing conditions that constitute a conspiracy -- after halving the number from that in the previous legislation. We are, however, left wondering why those 277 crimes were singled out, with the government's explanations far from convincing.

One of the offenses subject to the anti-conspiracy bill is mushroom picking in conservation forests in violation of the Forest Act. The government explains that criminal rings can obtain funds by selling off looted mushrooms.

So what about the illegal harvesting of marine products? While the sale of such seafood may also bring profits, that is not subject to the anti-conspiracy bill. What sets seafood apart from blessings from the mountains?

When grilled by opposition legislators, the director-general of the Justice Ministry's Criminal Affairs Bureau stated, "We chose offenses that organized crime groups are likely to commit."

However, just citing the possibility is far from convincing. In fact, large-scale poaching has been underway in waters around the country.

The bill raises concerns among the public in that it can punish people at the point they "agreed" to commit a crime -- even before the crime has been carried out. Taking these issues into consideration, it is necessary to provide clearer reasoning when selecting crimes to be subject to the controversial legislation.

Needless to say, we already have laws for cracking down on mushroom looting and poaching. So what's the point of associating those offenses with organized crime rings to expand the legal net of anti-conspiracy charges?

We cannot readily accept government accounts over why it picked those 277 crimes as subject to the bill, after observing officials' explanations that have changed a great deal.

The bill -- which is to revise the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds -- is aimed at allowing Japan to enter into the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which requires signatories to introduce laws that can punish those who "agreed" to commit serious offenses. The government had initially insisted that 676 crimes would be subject to the anti-conspiracy bill and that the figure cannot be reduced in light of the interpretation of the convention.

However, that figure was slashed by half after accommodating opinions from Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, just as the legislation was set to be submitted to the Diet under the fresh label of "a bill that would criminalize acts of preparations to commit crimes such as terrorism."

Looking at the government's ambiguous explanations about the selection criteria for the 277 crimes, one cannot help but suspect the government was primarily intent on compressing the crime list rather than carefully examining which offenses to include in the bill.

During a House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee session on April 25, one of the experts who spoke as a witness complained that many of the 277 crimes are irrelevant to organized crimes.

Diet deliberations on the bill are set to enter crucial stages after the "Golden Week" holiday period is over in early May. Yet there remain many points of contention, including the fundamental question of whether the introduction of the bill is a necessary prerequisite for signing the U.N. convention. Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, who is responsible for submitting the bill to the Diet, bears even greater accountability for the proposed measure.

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