Japan’s opposition parties and civil liberties protesters are objecting to a legislative bill that would greatly expand Japanese police’s capability to prosecute would-be terrorists on conspiracy charges.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet approved the contents of the bill Tuesday.
The bill would allow prosecutors to target individuals involved in funding or providing material support for a criminal conspiracy, including scouting locations for terrorist attacks and affirming a desire to commit a crime via email, telephone, messaging apps, or other correspondence.
The Japan Times notes that, in response to protests from opposition lawmakers, Abe’s allies rewrote the bill to include provisions for those plotting 277 different crimes. The original bill allowed prosecutors to charge defendants with conspiracy if they stood accused of committing 676 crimes.
Reuters adds that the idea for the bill has made the rounds in the Japanese Diet three times since 2000 when Japan adopted the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Abe’s government seeks to ratify the convention but cannot do so without strengthening its current legal infrastructure against organized crime, specifically providing prosecutors with the means to process individuals who aided in the execution of a crime without participating in the committing of that crime.
Legislators amended the bill this month to include “terrorist groups” alongside organized crime syndicates in its provisions. Prosecutors could now use the law against those engaging in “plans to carry out grave crimes accompanied by acts of preparing to execute such plans by terrorism groups and other organized crime groups.”
Abe’s government argues that the law helps Japan both abide by the convention’s provisions and protect against potential acts of terrorism during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
“It is an urgent necessity for the government to ratify the treaty to promote international cooperation on counter-terrorism,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday. “Considering the current situation regarding terrorism and looking ahead to the Olympics and Paraolympics three years hence, it is necessary to fully prepare to prevent organized crimes including terrorism.”
Legislators are expected to vote on the final bill over the summer, according to Kyodo News. A Kyodo poll taken March 12 found the bill to be unpopular among voters, with 33 percent of respondents supporting it.
Due to the pervasiveness of organized criminal enterprises in the mid-20th century in the United States, prosecutors have had access to a number of causes of action against organized crime conspirators through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act since 1970.
Legal scholars have argued that RICO has an application in counter-terrorist activities as well as its traditional use against domestic organized crime syndicates for decades. The Japanese law in question would presumably serve a similar dual function of granting prosecutors tools that may be used against both traditional organized crime and terrorist organizations.
The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games will pose an unprecedented security challenge for Japan’s law enforcement if the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics are any indication. While Brazil has not faced a significant threat from jihadist organizations, reports during the event indicated that Brazilian police were fielding three bomb threats a day during the games.
Police uncovered encrypted chats among Islamic State supporters in Portuguese. Individuals identified as having sworn allegiance to the Islamic State were planning bombings and raids on Olympic venues. Ultimately, Brazilian police succeeded in preventing any such terrorist attacks.
Unlike Brazil, Japan has attracted jihadi attention, however. At least one Japanese national was arrested in the Middle East attempting to join the Islamic State a year ago, and ISIS terrorists in the region have abducted and beheaded Japanese citizens in the hope of roping Abe into military conflict with their group. Japan, whose constitution bars them from keeping a standing military, has rejected a place in the anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States in Iraq and Syria, instead sending humanitarian aid to the region.
A 2015 Public Security Intelligence Agency (PSIA) report cited by the Japan Times listed “the Japanese Communist Party, right-wing factions and radical leftist groups such as Kaiho-ha, which violently opposes the spread of U.S. military bases in Japan” as the main concern of anti-terrorism units within Japan’s law enforcement. Radical Islamic groups do not constitute a major threat to Japan due to the small Muslim population of the country, though the Times notes that Japanese police have implemented extensive surveillance programs on its Muslim population.