Japan Approves Plan to Punish Online Insults with Prison Time

People wearing face masks check their phones on the subway in Osaka on August 17, 2021. (Photo by David GANNON / AFP) (Photo by DAVID GANNON/AFP via Getty Images)
DAVID GANNON/AFP via Getty Images

An advisory panel of the Japanese Ministry of Justice approved a plan on Thursday that seeks to “introduce prison terms as part of tougher penalties for online insults in Japan,” Kyodo News reported.

The special panel submitted its proposals to Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa on October 21 as part of the Japanese government’s efforts to combat an alleged rise in cyberbullying by Japanese Internet users in recent years.

Under current Japanese law, the penalty against online insults includes “detention for less than 30 days or a fine of less than 10,000 yen [$88],” according to Kyodo News. The amendments proposed on Thursday aim to introduce “a prison term of up to one year and raise the fine to up to 300,000 yen [$2,643].”

Japan’s Justice Ministry also plans to increase the statute of limitations for insults committed over the Internet from one year to three years.

The most recent high-profile case of alleged cyberbullying in Japan took place in May 2020. Hana Kimura, a cast member of a Japanese reality television show called Terrace House, reportedly took her own life “following a barrage of hateful messages on social media triggered by her appearance on the popular Netflix reality show, which has since been canceled,” Kyodo News recalled on May 19.

Police found Kimura, who was also a second-generation professional wrestler, dead in her Tokyo apartment on May 23, 2020. Authorities ruled the 22-year-old’s death a suicide in December 2020. In the hours immediately preceding her death, Kimura published a number of troubling statements and photos to social media “implying she had been cyber-bullied,” the BBC reported in May 2020.

“In disturbing tweets that have since been deleted and translated, Kimura alluded to suffering from online bullying, and wrote that she did not ‘want to be a human anymore,’ and ‘wanted to be loved,'” USA Today reported shortly after the wrestler’s death was confirmed. “Kimura also posted photos of what appeared to be self-harm.”

A Japanese court on May 19 ordered a man from the central Japanese prefecture of Nagano to pay 1.29 million yen ($12,000) to Kimura’s mother, Kyoko Kimura, for “causing emotional distress” to the deceased woman’s family by posting “hateful messages about her after her death.”

“Everyone is happier that you died, thank you,” the man wrote in a statement posted online sometime after Kimura’s suicide.

“Who do you think you are, causing trouble until the end? Go to hell,” another post by the unidentified man read.

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