SIXTH COLUMN

"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Friday, May 12, 2006

The Return of 'Thought Crimes' to Japan


"Japan should reflect on the historical lesson that threats born of free thought and speech are nothing compared with the corrosive power of unchecked authority."

Thought crimes, thought crime police, those terms evoke memories of the Soviet Union, of National Socialism, of George Orwell's 1984, even present-day Islam, not a modern 21st-century democracy such as Japan.

Japan's government is pushing for the passage of an anti-conspiracy law with potentially far-reaching consequences. Called the Kyoubouzai Hoan (conspiracy or collusion law), the legislation appears headed for passage in the diet (parliament) as soon as next week. In its present form, it could result in Japanese citizens being detained or punished for merely agreeing with one another.

In combination with another statute that permits detention without charge, the new law could have a chilling effect on civil liberties, including freedoms of speech and assembly and the right to organize.

Domestic critics of the plan say it evokes comparison with the pre-World War II Peace Preservation Law, which made opposing the war a thought crime. The proposed statute is a vaguely worded, two-sentence amendment to an existing law. It defines "conspiracy" as an agreement, whether overt or tacit, fanciful or earnest, between two or more people that might be construed as planning to violate any statute for which the minimum sentence is four years or more. There are currently 619 such statutes, and more could be added by changing the minimum sentence guidelines...

Japan's government is pushing for the passage of an anti-conspiracy law with potentially far-reaching consequences. Called the Kyoubouzai Hoan (conspiracy or collusion law), the legislation appears headed for passage in the diet (parliament) as soon as next week. In its present form, it could result in Japanese citizens being detained or punished for merely agreeing with one another.

In combination with another statute that permits detention without charge, the new law could have a chilling effect on civil liberties, including freedoms of speech and assembly and the right to organize.

Domestic critics of the plan say it evokes comparison with the pre-World War II Peace Preservation Law, which made opposing the war a thought crime. The proposed statute is a vaguely worded, two-sentence amendment to an existing law. It defines "conspiracy" as an agreement, whether overt or tacit, fanciful or earnest, between two or more people that might be construed as planning to violate any statute for which the minimum sentence is four years or more. There are currently 619 such statutes, and more could be added by changing the minimum sentence guidelines.

The rationale for the legislation is that Japan is a signatory to a United Nations treaty designed to stop international organized criminal activity. But the draft amendment makes no mention of the treaty, which Japan's UN representatives originally opposed as unnecessary. A Kyoto student group used Japan's version of the US Freedom of Information Act to get the transcripts of the committee that drafted the amendment. They reportedly received pages in which most of the text had been blackened out.

Japan already has domestic laws against organized criminal groups. The new conspiracy provision raises the specter that much daily speech and activity could be criminalized or made subject to police scrutiny, if not immediately, then at some time in the future.


Notice how easy it is to implement such draconian measures. Granted that Japan is a more closed and restrained society. But, with attempts to silence critics, to "regulate" the internet, and all the rest: Is America far behind? We need to jealously guard our rights and freedoms.

However, America won't go down easily. The present chaotic conditions lend themselves to calls for the use of measures that could easily become "unchecked power."

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