Japan cabinet OK's anti-conspiracy bill amid civil rights concerns


By Linda SiegTOKYO, March 21(Reuters) - Japan's cabinet on Tuesday
approved legislation that would penalise criminal conspiracies,
a move critics say threatens  civil liberties, but officials say
is needed to prevent terrorist targeting events like the 2020
Tokyo Olympics.
    Proponents say the steps are vital in a security climate
where terrorism risks have grown and in order to ratify a U.N.
Treaty aimed at battling international organised crime.
    "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 organised
crimes including terrorism," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide
Suga told a news conference.
   Japanese governments have tried to pass similar legislation
three times since 2000, when the United Nations adopted a
Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, but the bill
stands a better chance of success this time.
   Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition has a two-thirds
majority in both houses of parliament and public worries about
terrorism ahead of the Olympics have grown after deadly attacks
overseas, although an opinion poll released by Kyodo news agency
on March 12 showed 45.5 percent were opposed to the bill while
33 percent favoured it.
    Suga said the legislation would apply only to groups
preparing to commit terrorist acts and other organised crime
groups and would not target the "legitimate activities" of civil
groups or labour unions.
    Opponents, including the Japan Federation of Bar
Associations, have doubts. They view the proposed change as part
of Abe's agenda to tighten control at the expense of individual
rights, chilling grassroots opposition to government policies
such as the construction of a U.S. military base on Okinawa
     "It is very clear that the Japanese public security sector
- police and prosecutors - employ an extremely expansive
interpretation of any aspect of criminal law so ... regardless
of the limited list of potential crimes, they will interpret it
in an extremely elastic way," said Lawrence Repeta, a law
professor at Meiji University in Tokyo.
    The lawyers' association has said Japanese law already
prohibits preparations to commit certain serious crimes such as
murder, arson and counterfeiting or plotting an insurgency or
the use of explosives, so additional legislation is unnecessary.

 (Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Simon
 ((linda.sieg@thomsonreuters.com; 81-3-6441-1881; Reuters
Messaging: linda.sieg.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))


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