JAPAN MUST EXPEDITE ENACTMENT OF BILL COMBATTING TERRORISM
Liberal Japanese media outlets like The Asahi Shimbun and The Tokyo Shimbun are tenaciously putting forth an argument against the enactment of legislation penalizing “preparations for terrorism and other acts.”
The bill, aimed at revising the Law on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds, is needed to ratify the 2000 United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which Japan has yet to ratify.
Why Japan must ratify the convention is obvious from the stern reality of the international situation facing Japan. Amid growing concerns about the threat from North Korea and the political instability in a rapidly left-leaning South Korea, the risk of domestic and international terrorism targeting Japan, which will host the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, is expected to increase. Prevention of terrorism and other crimes calls for a smooth exchange of information among nations, above all else. For that purpose, cooperation among members of the international community is mandatory.
Nations have closely cooperated with each other over the years. Already, 184 nations—or 94% of the UN membership—have ratified the convention, but not the remaining 11 nations, including Japan, which have only signed it.
The government is eager to enact the bill in June after having it approved by the cabinet on March 21. But deliberations have been stalled due to several other pending issues, including a state-owned land sale scandal which has embroiled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie.
Meanwhile, a host of Japanese dailies, with the Asahi heading the list, continue twisting the essence of the legislation in their reports. In the lead article on the front page of its March 22 edition, the Asahi ran a headline reading “All-Out Opposition to ‘Conspiracy Law,’” declaring it will continue to call the proposed bill the “conspiracy law” since the legislation includes elements that would allow the government to prosecute individuals at the “planning stage of a crime.”
A sub-head read: “Danger of Violating Freedom of Thought.” If the current legislation truly is designed to suppress citizens’ freedom of thought, I would certainly not tolerate it. But such worries can easily be put to rest if one reads the content of the bill accurately.
Eleven years ago, when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito Party submitted a bill to the Diet proposing conspiracy as a new crime category, I was invited to state my viewpoint before the Committee on Judicial Affairs of the Lower House as an expert witness. Frankly, I then had the same concern about the bill as the Asahi does about the current legislation today. I candidly discussed my concern about the bill at the time.
My remarks at the time narrowed down to two points: 1) Laws against the crime of conspiracy are necessary; 2) However, controls clear to everyone are necessary in order to prevent any chance of the bill infringing on the sanctity of one’s mind or hampering the freedom of thought and beliefs. For that purpose, I supported a revision of the bill proposed by the leading opposition party—the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ, now DP).
At the time, the DPJ had come up with a commendable revision and the Asahi was making assertions not much different from the party.
To refresh my memory, I obtained a copy of the official record of the proceedings of the committee. It reflected the worries I had about the danger of reckless arrests and investigations and the subsequent infringement on the freedom of thought. I emphasized that as a journalist I would not tolerate those violations, strongly urging the authorities to specify the factors that would lead to investigations or arrests in connection with crimes of conspiracy. My position remains absolutely unchanged today.
Interestingly, I myself, along with the Asahi and the DJP were all making similar assertions then—that there must be controls to the right of the authorities to investigate or arrest. But there was a decisive difference between myself and the Asahi or the DPJ over whether or not Japan should establish a law against conspiracy. I viewed it as absolutely necessary for Japan then, and still do today. In point of fact, I pointed that out six times in my testimony.
Today, eleven years later, the bill the government has submitted anew is markedly different from its predecessor in that it does not even refer to “the crime of conspiracy.” The government once sought to regard as criminal “one’s specific consent to taking part in a serious crime.” However, under the current legislation, one is subject to punishment only when he is found to have “actually prepared for a crime in addition to having agreed to take part in it.”
So, the clear controls that I stressed were necessary, which the Asahi also demanded, have been incorporated. The DPJ’s wishes have also been met. There is no chance that any individual will be punished for what he may just think or feel about a possible crime. Therefore, the daily’s assertion that the revised government plan is absolutely no different from what it was 11 years ago is clearly mistaken.
In the previous legislation, there were a total of 615 cases of criminal offenses that were to be punished. This time, the list was reduced to 277 offenses. Masahisa Sato, an LDP member of the Upper House, had this to say when he appeared as a guest on my Genron Internet TV show on March 31:
“Those convicted of crimes punishable with the death penalty or more than four years’ imprisonment would theoretically fall within ‘crimes of conspiracy.’ Thorough investigations conducted on that basis produced 676 applicable offenses, but they included offenses like violation of the election law. These have nothing to do with organized crimes. So, we narrowed the list of crimes down to 277, such as drugs and money laundering, which only involve organized crime groups. It is much clearer now that entities like labor unions will not be targeted for investigation under this new law. ”
Impossible under Existing Law
Still, the Asahi and the DP aren’t satisfied, stubbornly claiming that existing laws can sufficiently control terrorism or organized crimes. Can they really? Impossible, says Sato, noting:
“Suppose I am a member of a terrorist group. My buddy has been jailed and I want to release him from the prison. So I decide to take private citizens hostage and exchange them for my buddy. Under the existing law, the authorities cannot arrest terrorists with such a plan even when they buy weapons in preparation for taking the hostages. They still cannot arrest the terrorists even if they approach the hostages’ residence with weapons in their hands. Because under existing law no crime has yet been committed.”
Sato says arrest under current Japanese law is possible only when the terrorist actually enters the house he has targeted. But that obviously is too late. Don’t the authorities realize how difficult it is to save the hostages once the terrorist breaks in? Innocent lives are very much in danger at that point. But our laws are fundamentally designed to punish criminals post hoc, not to protect those in danger before a crime is committed.
Sato cited another case:
“Suppose a terrorist plans to pour a poisonous substance into a water source to kill a large number of innocent citizens and create chaos. Under existing law, the authorities cannot arrest the terrorist just for planning the killing or buying the poison. He cannot be arrested even when he is actually heading for the water source carrying the poison with him. He can be arrested only at the very moment when he pours poison into the water.”
What will happen to the water source? The environment will be contaminated, causing many to die. How can existing law suffice when the authorities cannot but sit idly by until a disaster takes place?
“Under the proposed legislation,” explained Sato, “perpetrators can be arrested and investigated when they buy weapons in order to take a hostage, or buy poison to contaminate a water source. When enacted, the proposed bill would serve the important function of stopping up a gaping hole in our existing law.”
Why can’t the Asahi, or other media outlets and entities which oppose the legislation, accept the much needed ratification of the UN convention and an early enactment of the revised bill? The Asahi, as well as the DP, must immediately stop opposing the legislation just for the sake of opposition.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 749 in the April 13, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)