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'Anti-conspiracy' bill steamrolled through lower house committee

Opposition lawmakers surround the Liberal Democratic Party's Junji Suzuki, chairman of the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee, as he goes ahead with a vote on the controversial "anti-conspiracy" bill during a committee meeting on May 19, 2017. (Mainichi)

The so-called anti-conspiracy bill, which would criminalize "acts of preparations to commit crimes such as terrorism" by changing the conditions that constitute conspiracy, was passed in the House of Representatives Committee on Judicial Affairs on May 19 amid vociferous protests from opposition parties.

The ruling parties motioned to vote shortly after 1 p.m., reasoning that discussion on the bill had been exhaustive by citing the 30 hours of debate that had taken place.

While committee members from the opposition Democratic Party (DP) and Japanese Communist Party (JCP) rushed to the committee chair's seat to stop the vote from taking place, yelling that there had been insufficient discussion, the bill was pushed through with majority votes from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito, plus small opposition party Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party).

The government and ruling parties are aiming to pass the bill in a House of Representatives plenary session on or after May 23 so that it can be sent to the House of Councillors, in order to have the legislation enacted by June 18, the last day of the current ordinary Diet session.

In a packed committee room, LDP legislator Masatada Tsuchiya opened the session by poking fun at the opposition, saying, "You're directing all your questions to the justice minister," and, "Many strange and off-the-mark questions have been asked." In addition, he said, "Since the end is near, I'd like to ask some basic questions." Voices of affirmation were heard, likely from ruling party lawmakers. At the same time, however, comments such as "What are you implying?" could also be heard.

Yelling and heckling continued as the four-hour time limit for the committee meeting drew closer and closer, with the Judicial Committee Chairman and LDP lawmaker Junji Suzuki raising his voice to call for quiet. Those in the gallery kept an anxious watch on events.

Tsuchiya emphasized the necessity of passing the anti-conspiracy bill, saying, "We obviously must be prepared for terror attempts that target the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics." Meanwhile, DP committee member Seiji Osaka stated, "There is still a mountain of issues that must be discussed. We most definitely cannot abide a vote on this half-baked bill," and expressed concern that "ordinary people" would become subject to investigation on suspicion of conspiracy if the bill was to be enacted.

Deliberation of a portion of the anti-conspiracy bill -- in fact a revision to the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds -- had begun in the budget committees of both the lower and upper houses in January, before the anti-conspiracy bill was submitted to the Diet. Discussion of the bill started in the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee on April 19.

In response to concerns that investigative agencies would abuse such a law, the ruling LDP and Komeito, along with Nippon Ishin, incorporated a supplementary provision into the bill that recommends consideration of making audio and video recordings of interrogations mandatory.

The bill, which would punish "preparations for terrorism or similar acts," stipulates that the legislation would apply to "terrorist groups and other organized criminal groups." A group is defined in the bill as two or more people, and the proposed charge would apply to those who plan one of the many listed offenses, in which at least one member makes specific preparations to carry out the offense. Punishment would be meted out to all members of the group, regardless of whether they were the one who made specific preparations. The list of offenses was narrowed down from the original 676 to 277.

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