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Japan passes revised Penal Code with harsher punishment for cyberbullying

Lawmakers vote on the revised Penal Code during a plenary session of the House of Councillors on June 13, 2022. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Japan's Diet passed revisions to the Penal Code on June 13, with a harsher punishment for insults to counter cyberbullying -- two years after a reality show cast member died following online abuse.

    The House of Councillors voted on and enacted the revised criminal law during a plenary session on June 13. The revised section on insult charges is expected to come into force this summer. Due to concerns expressed during the Diet deliberation process that tougher laws could curb freedom of expression, the revised law requires examination by an expert panel three years after its enforcement.

    Insult charges apply when an individual insults another in public to damage their social reputation. The penalty applied to the crime under the pre-revised law was "detention for less than 30 days" or "a fine of less than 10,000 yen (roughly $74)" -- the lightest punishments under the Penal Code. Debate over the law's revision accelerated after professional wrestler Hana Kimura died in 2020 at age 22 following cyberbullying on social media over her remarks on a reality romance show that she had been part of.

    Under the revised criminal law, penalties of "imprisonment with labor or a jail term without labor for up to one year," and "a fine up to 300,000 yen (about $2,200)" have been added, while the statute of limitations for prosecution has been extended from one year to three. This gives more time for authorities to identify cyberbullies who have posted malicious comments infringing on human rights. While allowing harsher penalties, the revised law is expected to deter psychological abuse.

    Meanwhile, a new imprisonment sentence was introduced under the revised law, in which "imprisonment with labor" and "imprisonment without labor" are unified and prisoners work on their rehabilitation based on a tailored menu meeting each prisoner's circumstances to prevent recidivism. The new type of sentence will be introduced in three years' time.

    (Japanese original by Masakatsu Yamamoto, Tokyo City News Department)

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