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Can law enforcers be fair in applying crime of preparations for terrorism?

People gathered in front of Diet members' office buildings in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward continue to raise their voices against the anti-conspiracy legislation shortly after it was passed at a House of Councillors plenary meeting on the morning of June 15, 2017. (Mainichi)

Questions remain as to how far law enforcers can ensure fairness in applying the charge of preparations to carry out terror and other crimes under the revised Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds, or the so-called "anti-conspiracy" law, which was enacted on June 15.

    Voices of support for the law have risen from investigation authorities, with such comments as, "The new legislation is expected to discourage criminal suspects from committing offenses," and "It is also an advantage to be able to share terrorists' information with authorities of other countries." On the other hand, questions have been raised as to how much the law can be applied to actual cases.

    The name of the charge makes the law appear to be aimed primarily at preventing terror, but police hope to use the new legislation to crack down on those involved in remittance fraud cases and organized crime groups.

    "There was a case in which we found a hub of remittance fraud crimes but had no choice but to abandon building a criminal case against the group because we failed to confirm losses caused by their activities. We may be able to invoke the amended law to crack down on such fraudsters," said one senior police official.

    Noting that what constitutes "preparations for crimes" in the amended law remains ambiguous, another senior police official said investigators will have no choice but to practice caution and consult with prosecutors in determining whether the charge is applicable to specific cases.

    The enactment of the legislation is expected to allow Japan to sign the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which officials hope will facilitate investigative cooperation with other countries and extradition of criminals. A total of 187 countries and regions are parties to the pact.

    There is a wide perception gap between law enforcers and lawyers on the possibility that the law could be applied arbitrarily.

    A senior prosecutor stressed that the charge would never apply to "ordinary" citizens. "It's impossible to apply the charge to investigate 'ordinary citizens.' Since the conditions (for constituting conspiracy) are strict, law enforcers can't abuse the legislation," he said.

    However, lawyers who represent those who claim they have been falsely accused or convicted of committing crimes expressed concern that the law poses risks.

    "Investigative authorities could arbitrarily recognize ordinary citizens' daily activities as preparations to carry out crimes. The law could result in false accusations or convictions," one of them said.

    Lawyer Yasuyuki Takai, who previously worked as a prosecutor, highly appreciates the amendment to the law. "Terror and other crimes can be prevented if law enforcers crack down on suspects before they carry out crimes," he said.

    At the same time, Takai pointed out that law enforcers will face difficulty applying the charge.

    "The charge is applicable only to organized crime groups and is aimed at punishing those who actually prepare to carry out crimes -- rather than just thinking about carrying out crimes. Since the conditions for applying the charge are strict, it'll be difficult for law enforcers to use it," the lawyer said. "In applying the charge, investigators need to strictly abide by the iron rules of criminal investigations, which require them to sufficiently gather clear evidence."

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