Sunday, May 14, 2006

The return of 'thought crimes' in Japan

Japan's government is pushing for the passage of an anti-conspiracy law with potentially far-reaching consequences. Called the Kyoubouzai Hoan (conspiracy or collusion law), the legislation appears headed for passage in the diet (parliament) as soon as next week. In its present form, it could result in Japanese citizens being detained or punished for merely agreeing with one another.

Domestic critics of the plan say it evokes comparison with the
pre-World War II Peace Preservation Law, which made opposing the war a thought crime. The proposed statute is a vaguely worded, two-sentence amendment to an existing law. It defines "conspiracy" as an agreement, whether overt or tacit, fanciful or earnest, between two or more people that might be construed as planning to violate any statute for which the minimum sentence is four years or more. There are currently 619 such statutes, and more could be added by changing the minimum sentence guidelines.

Lawyers say that a husband and wife imagining nefarious ways to get back at their landlord for raising their rent fit the amendment's definition of a "group" planning criminal activity. Labor-union members brainstorming ways to resist harsh workplace practices could be held for colluding to violate laws that prohibit interfering with business activity. Teens discussing how to hot-wire cars could be held on conspiracy charges even if they did not attempt to act on their knowledge.

Simply belonging to a group or being in the same room where such conversations take place could make a person subject to the new law. No crime need be actually carried out for the police to detain suspects. Failing to report overheard conspiratorial talk could be construed collusion.


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