An anti-terror bill with stricter actus reus provisions than those for the crime of conspiracy has been submitted to the Diet. The bill, which would reform the sentencing requirements for organized crime, stipulates new crimes falling under the rubric of making preparations to carry out terrorist activities and similar activities. The government is hoping to be able to bring under investigation organizations found to have changed radically into organized crime groups assembled for the purpose of carrying out crimes.
The Japanese government has explained that the new measures are necessary in order for Japan to be able to ratify the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and thus supporting the international community in its efforts to combat terrorism. The bill is meant to expand the investigative scope in order to stop actual criminal activity before it is carried out. In other words, the bill is unrelated to anything other than organizations which are formed for the purpose of committing crimes.
But some in the media are using extreme rhetoric in order to stir up uneasiness over the bill, characterizing it as, for example, a means of “thought suppression,” or saying that it raised “fears of citizen surveillance.” For example, the front page of the Asahi Shimbun morning edition expressed concern that there was a “danger of crossing the threshold into inner freedom of thought.” The article continued, saying that “the standard for deciding [when this change has occurred] are vague, and much is left to the discretion of the investigating authorities.”
In its social issues section, the Asahi described the example of the Oita police making unauthorized entry into buildings occupied by groups supporting opposition political parties in order to install hidden cameras, saying that the new bill “increased the fear of surveillance,” would “expand [surveillance] to unrelated individuals,” and “had the potential to make it a crime to talk with someone.” The Oita example is a clear case of inappropriate investigation, and the officers in charge have been summarily indicted.
Some outlets have altered the official name of the anti-terror bill in favor of other euphemisms. The Sankei Shimbun, the Yomiuri Shimbun, and NHK use the official term, while the Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Nikkei Shimbun, and Tokyo Shimbun all use the term “crime of conspiracy” in standout quotes. The Asahi even went so far as to print on page one that it was declining to use the term as given in the original bill.
The Tokyo Shimbun adopted an even more extreme approach than the Asahi. In a column on the first page of its morning edition, the Tokyo Shimbun emphasized that “of most concern is that average citizens will be punished, and the freedom of expressing one’s opinion towards the government will be chilled.” The Tokyo Shimbun also used a graphic to depict the daunting prospect that, if politicians were to decide that it was an act of terrorism for citizen groups to stand in front of the Diet and shout “No to restarting the nuclear plants!” then these groups could be arbitrarily categorized as organized crime groups.
It is different, of course, if a group is engaged in underhanded, illegal behavior, but lawful activities in no way fall under the scope of the expanded investigative powers, so there is no reason why free expression would be checked in any way. And yet on March 22, the Tokyo Shimbun asked “Will the end result not be a ‘surveillance society’ in which all freedom has been taken away?”
The social issues section of the paper bore the headline “Thought Suppression—Never Again”. The accompanying article carried a quote by a woman arrested during the agrarian movement in prewar Japan under the Peace Preservation Law for reading Akahata, the official newspaper of the Communist Party (which was then outlawed): “I don’t want the world to be a terrifying place where people get arrested just for handing out flyers.”
This interview with a playwright whose activities diverge from the purview of the proposed law was carried on the front page of the morning edition of the Tokyo Shimbun. “Let us say that some people were writing a play to be called ‘Someone Is Thinking of Demolition Work’,” the Tokyo Shimbun wrote. “As research for this play, they may collect and purchase materials. For this, they may find themselves charged with ‘conspiracy’.”
Two Okinawan newspapers ran editorials on March 22 raising the possibility of anti-U.S. base activities being targeted, criticizing the bill as “needless and harmful, and in need of immediate repeal” (Ryukyu Shimpo) and raising “concerns, impossible to dismiss, about disregard for human rights” (Okinawa Times).
During the evening broadcast of the TV Asahi program “Hodo Station,” journalist Kenji Goto expressed his concerns about the “dangers of descending into a limitless surveillance society.” He continued, “Even veteran police officials say that the existing anti-terror laws are sufficient for dealing with terroristic activities.” However, Goto failed to provide any evidence of the sufficiency of anti-terror countermeasures as they now stand.
However, there are those even within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who feel that the standards for deciding when an organization has made the radical change into an organized criminal group are difficult to understand. The passage of the bill is in peril unless an accurate response can be raised to the rhetoric in the Diet designed to stir up angst over the proposed changes to the law.
The Crime of Planning Terrorism Is Different than the Crime of Conspiracy
The crime of planning terrorism as laid out in the current anti-terror bill differs greatly from the crime of conspiracy, which has been abolished three times in the past. This is because, as a Ministry of Justice official points out, “[The revised law] can be applied only in the event of preparatory activities being carried out in light of a concrete plan (or agreement) [for terrorism or like crimes].” No punishment can come into force without preparatory activities carried out with the intent of committing large-scale crime.
Another Ministry of Justice official said that “the actus reus component has been changed in order to dispel concerns about previous laws against conspiracy, now abolished. The name is apt—[the law is] not about conspiracy, but about the crime of making preparations to carry out acts of terrorism.” Minister of Justice Katsutoshi Kaneda emphasizes, “The media are frequently using the term ‘crime of conspiracy’, but the crime of preparing to commit terrorism is different from conspiracy as it has always been understood.”
(Click here to find the original article in Japanese)