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Editorial: We oppose passage of 'anti-conspiracy' bill in current form

The so-called anti-conspiracy bill -- which is officially characterized as "a bill that would criminalize acts of preparations to commit crimes such as terrorism" and has been a hot issue in the ongoing Diet session -- was passed through the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee in a raucous May 19 vote.

Committee members from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito, as well as an opposition party, Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party, JIP), voted in favor of the bill, while members from the Democratic Party (DP) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) vehemently opposed the vote itself.

The ruling coalition motioned to end further deliberation during its May 19 meeting, while leaving many questions about the bill unanswered. It was an extremely imprudent way of bringing a bill to a vote.

The government has explained that the bill must be passed in order for Japan to sign on to the U.N. Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (TOC). Becoming a TOC signatory has its merits, such as mutual cooperation in investigations and extradition of criminals; signing the treaty is indeed necessary.

However, the DP and the JCP argue that Japan already meets the legal conditions for signing the TOC without passing the contentious anti-conspiracy bill into law -- leaving a massive gap between the government and ruling parties on one side, and the opposition parties on the other. It is the job of the legislature to carry out exhaustive debate to close that gap.

If passed, the anti-conspiracy legislation would make 277 offenses subject to conspiracy charges, in their planning and preparatory stages. The government has said that only organized crime groups would be subject to such charges. However, concerns remain that everyday people will be subjected to police investigation, opening the way to a surveillance society.

Moreover, if the anti-conspiracy bill were to go into effect, it would entail a fundamental overhaul of the Japanese criminal legal system, which currently punishes crimes that have already been committed. The effects that the potential abuse of investigative authority could have cannot be overlooked.

Even if the anti-conspiracy law were necessary to sign the TOC or prevent terrorism, the law must be set up in a way that minimizes the fears people have toward it.

We have continued to argue that in order to do so, two things are crucial: drastically narrowing down the number of offenses subject to conspiracy charges, and writing into the bill specific measures that would put the brakes on the abuse of investigative power.

Most notably, narrowing down the number of offenses subject to conspiracy charges is a must. The government claims that it chose crimes that organized crime groups could realistically be expected to plan. But among the 277 crimes included in the bill, there are those whose links to organized crime are highly improbable. Furthermore, the bill includes many crimes that seem unrelated to fighting terrorism -- a major goal of the bill, according to the government.

The bill passed in the lower house committee incorporated amendments from the ruling coalition and the JIP. But the amendments were minimal, and did not include a cutback on the number of offenses subject to conspiracy charges. The changes made to the bill were extremely insufficient.

Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda's answers to questions directed at him in the Diet were erratic. He often simply read directly from papers that were passed to him from bureaucrats sitting behind him, or repeated statements that Justice Ministry bureau chiefs had given. The no-confidence motion against the justice minister submitted by opposition parties was voted down, but Kaneda's qualifications for his portfolio remain questionable.

There has hardly been enough debate on the anti-conspiracy bill. Even if it passes through the House of Representatives plenary session, the House of Councillors must pause and conduct a full review of the bill's many problems. We oppose passage of the bill in its current state.

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