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Editorial: Agreement to modify 'anti-conspiracy bill' far from sufficient

The ruling coalition and the opposition party Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) have agreed to revise the "anti-conspiracy bill" that has taken center stage in the latter half of the ongoing Diet session.

Under the agreement, a provision stipulating that sufficient considerations be made "to guarantee the appropriateness of investigations" will be incorporated into the main rules of the bill. However, questions remain over the efficacy of such a provision in inhibiting abuse of power by law enforcers.

A system to make audio and video recordings of the questioning of crime suspects, a measure recommended by Nippon Ishin, will be incorporated into a supplementary provision as a subject to be considered But this is a far cry from a fundamental review of the original bill.

The controversial bill to revise the Act for Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds would allow law enforcers to pursue those who plan and prepare crimes even if those crimes have not been carried out. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claims that it has submitted the bill so Japan can sign the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. However, the governing bloc and key opposition parties remain at odds over whether it is necessary to develop legislation to criminalize acts of conspiracy over a broad range of offenses before signing the pact.

The government brings up terrorism with emphasis to legitimize the legislation. While it is true that many citizens are aware of the need for terrorism countermeasures, concerns persist that such legislation would allow law enforcers to keep people's lives under close surveillance.

If the "anti-conspiracy bill" were necessary, thoroughly narrowing down the types of crimes subject to conspiracy charges would be a vital step.

The government had maintained for many years that over 600 types of offenses specified by the convention could not be narrowed down. Nevertheless, the Abe government cut the number of offences to 277 -- less than half -- before drafting the bill.

The government based the decrease on the logic that the convention allows its parties to lower the types of crimes subject to conspiracy charges, if such legislation were to apply to only organized crime groups. However, this is extremely opportunistic. In other words, the convention allows its parties to broadly interpret the law at their own discretion.

It is not difficult to narrow down the types of crimes subject to the bill. During Diet deliberations, legal experts pointed out that types of crimes irrelevant to conspiracy charges, such as sex-related offenses, are included in the legislation.

Moreover, ruling and opposition parties should have thorough debate on how to prevent law enforcers from abusing their power.

Though the subjects of conspiracy charges are limited to organized crime groups, and preparation for committing crimes is listed as a prerequisite for constituting conspiracy under the bill, the definition of conspiracy remains ambiguous.

It is only natural that many people are worried the bill could allow law enforcers to keep citizens under close surveillance. The only way to dispel their concerns is to map out specific measures to prevent abuse of power by investigative authorities into the legislation.

The ruling coalition is poised to put the bill to a vote in the House of Representatives as early as next week. However, the governing bloc should not take advantage of its majority to overwhelm opponents of the bill.

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