Japan’s ruling parties have agreed to introduce a contentious bill on Thursday at a plenary session of the House of Representatives that would punish those planning to carry out serious crimes.
The Diet affairs chiefs of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito reached an agreement at a meeting on Monday, lawmakers said.
The government says the bill is necessary to ward off terrorism at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, and to ratify the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which Japan signed in 2000.
But opposition parties, arguing that the new bill is no different from three previous bills that were scrapped, are concerned it could allow the suppression of free speech, invasive state surveillance and arbitrary punishment of civic groups and labor unions.
Opponents also say 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.
Abe sought cooperation over the bill in a meeting between the government and ruling parties on Monday.
“The government will maintain a sense of alertness and work to carefully explain (the bill) as we aim for its certain enactment,” Abe said.
“Looking ahead to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, we will take every measure to prevent terrorism and other organized crimes in advance,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, said at a press conference.
But the main opposition Democratic Party will aim to see the bill scrapped, its Diet affairs chief told reporters.
“It’s a counterterrorism measure in name only, and would lead to a society with 100 million people under surveillance,” Kazunori Yamanoi said, riffing off the Abe administration’s plan to build a “society in which all 100 million people can play active roles.”
The government says the latest bill, a proposed revision of the law on organized crime, is applicable only to “organized crime groups,” unlike the previous versions that applied more broadly to “groups.”
The bill criminalizes the planning of 277 different crimes. It prescribes penalties of up to five years in prison for the planning of the most serious of those crimes, defined as those punishable by the death penalty, life imprisonment or more than 10 years’ imprisonment.
A penalty of up to two years in prison would be applicable to the planning of lesser crimes on the list.
But penalties would be reduced for those who plot a crime but turn themselves in before it is committed.
For charges to be pressed under the new legislation there would have to be evidence of specific preparations for a crime, such as procuring supplies or funds or checking out a location.
Thursday’s start date was suggested by the LDP to give the controversial bill enough time to make it to enactment in the current Diet session through mid-June.
Komeito had been pushing for other bills to come first, but was persuaded otherwise. Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi vowed Monday to “work together to advance” the bill.
The ruling coalition is expected to formally propose the start date to opposition parties in a lower house steering committee directors’ meeting on Tuesday, but the opposition is planning to reject that proposal.
If the ruling parties then push the bill into the deliberation stage without opposition parties’ agreement, the latter are likely to protest fiercely.
The opposition parties are expected to form a united front in their goal to scrap the bill like its predecessors.
“This is an unconstitutional piece of legislation that threatens the principles of the penal code by inflicting penalties at the planning stage, even if no criminal activity takes place,” said Akira Koike, head of the Secretariat of the Japanese Communist Party.