March 21, 2017 9:54 am JST

Japan cabinet approves contentious anti-conspiracy bill

Advocacy groups oppose 'fundamental change' to criminal code

Prime Minister's Office of Japan

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave its approval on Tuesday to a controversial bill that would punish preparations to carry out serious crimes, ostensibly in an effort to combat terrorism.

The ruling coalition will submit the proposed amendment to the organized crime law to the current Diet session, due to end mid-June, but its passage through parliament is unlikely to be smooth.

The Abe administration has stressed that the bill is less wide-reaching than three previous bills that flopped amid concern they could allow the suppression of discourse. Opponents, however, warn that the latest version could still lead to invasive state surveillance and arbitrary punishment of civic groups and labor unions.

The government claims that the bill is a necessary measure to thwart terrorism at the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, and to ratify the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which Japan signed in 2000.

But opponents argue this can be accomplished without the bill.

According to a draft of the bill obtained by Kyodo News, the charge of conspiracy will be applicable to "organized crime groups."

The charge will punish preparations by a group of two or more people, with at least one of them procuring funds or supplies or surveying a location.

The U.N. convention calls on signatories to adopt laws criminalizing the planning of "serious crime," which it defines as offenses punishable by four or more years in prison, in connection with organized criminal groups.

The government had originally sought for the planning of 676 different crimes to be included in the bill, but whittled this down to 277 crimes following pressure from within the ruling coalition.

Opposition parties and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, a legal advocacy group, have argued the bill would amount to a fundamental change in Japan's criminal code by charging people in connection with crimes that have not been committed.

The bill's opponents also argue that its scope is not sufficiently limited to terrorist groups despite the government's insistence that such groups are the bill's target.

Similar bills were unsuccessfully submitted to parliament between 2003 and 2005, when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was also in power, but applied more broadly to "groups."

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