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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Japan’s controversial anti-terror law passed amid huge uproar and warnings from critics

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TOKYO, Japan - After a night of political wrangling, Japan, on Thursday morning passed a controversial anti-terror law amid street protests, warnings from critics and concerns over civil liberties.
According to the new law that targets conspiracies, investigators would be allowed to charge an individual or organisation which conspires to engage in terrorism or other serious crimes. 
While opposers of the law have argued that it would stomp on citizens' privacy rights - the upper house of the parliament managed to pass the conspiracy bill, overcoming the weak opposition's no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet, along with a censure motion aimed at Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda. 
Even though the Japanese government has had tried to pass similar legislation three times previously - the opposition party has tried different methods, including delaying and protesting against the law.
A United Nations expert even raised concerns, calling the legislation “defective.”
In May, Joseph Cannataci, the UN special rapporteur on the right to privacy even wrote a letter to Abe, asking him to address the risk that the changes could "lead to undue restrictions to the rights to privacy and to freedom of expression.”
Cannataci has reportedly said the Japanese government had used "the psychology of fear" to push through "defective legislation.”
He was quoted as saying in a Reuters report, “Japan needs to improve its safeguards for privacy, now even more so that this supsicious piece of legislation has been put on the statute books.”
Responding to the letter, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the letter was “inappropriate” and denied that the law would lead to excessive surveillance.
Government officials have argued that the law is needed to ratify a UN treaty aimed at global organised crime as well as to prevent terrorism as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Olympics.
Last month, the bill passed through the more powerful lower house as Abe's ruling coalition holds a comfortable majority in both houses. 
The ruling bloc also opted for a rare measure of skipping a vote in an upper house committee and moving directly to a vote in the full upper house, in a bid to speed up passage of the law.
The vote was passed days before the current session of parliament is set to end on June 18.
Reports noted that the legislation would criminalise plotting and preparing to commit 277 "serious crimes" that critics like the Japan Federation of Bar Associations note include acts with no obvious connection to terrorism or organised crime, such as sit-ins to protest construction of apartment buildings or copying music.
Opponents have also argued that the legislation is part of Abe’s broader agenda to increase state powers.
They fear ordinary citizens could be targeted as part of the law.
Critics have stated that along with a widening of “legal wiretapping and the reluctance of courts to limit police surveillance powers,” the changes could deter grassroots opposition to government policies.
Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo has argued, “This fits Abe’s agenda in the run-up to a prospective national referendum on constitutional revision, and Japan’s possible involvement in future wars. Both of these would require new means to control unruly citizens who object to government decisions.”
Abe meanwhile has pointed out that the bill was passed to prevent terrorism and would be an appropriate, effective way to protect the lives of Japanese people.
He said, “It’s only three years until the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and so I’d like to ratify the treaty on organised crime as soon as possible so we can firmly cooperate with international society to prevent terrorism. That’s why the law was enacted.”
The parliament was surrounded by thousands of demonstrators, voicing opposition to the bill, on Wednesday night. 
The new ‘conspiracy’ law applies to the planning of the commission of 277 different crimes and penalties would be reduced for those who turn themselves in before the commission of a crime.
Those arrested for the planning of serious crimes could face a prison term of up to five years, while a penalty of up to two years in prison would be applied to a conspiracy to commit lesser crimes.
The law would also punish plots made for the purpose of maintaining or expanding the illicit interests of organised crime groups.

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