Japan has increased the penalty for the crime of “insulting,” which now carries a possible one year in prison and a fine of 300,000 yen (about $2,600). The statute of limitations was also extended from one year to three years. Previously, the maximum sentence was less than 30 days in prison and a fine of 10,000 JPY (US$75).
The change (opens in new tab) on the Japanese Criminal Code was approved on Monday by the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, supported by various smaller parties, and will come into force 20 days after approval (Thank you NHK Japan (opens in new tab)).
While this applies to both online and real-world insults, the public debate began in 2020 after the suicide of reality TV star Hana Kimura, a 22-year-old wrestler who starred in the Netflix series Terrace House. Kimura’s death sparked outrage (opens in new tab) about the online abuse and harassment she was subjected to, some of which she shared online on the day of her death, and Japanese lawmakers vowed to speed up consultations to update their laws to take account of the cyberbullying phenomenon wear.
Three men were investigated in connection with Kimura’s death. Two paid fines of 9,000 yen.
The amendment only passed after lawmakers agreed to add a provision, a three-year “sunset clause,” ordering the changes to be reconsidered. This is because there are many opponents who argue that it could be used to stifle freedom of expression and stifle criticism of powerful figures.
There’s also the age-old problem of what exactly constitutes an insult. Article 231 of the Japanese Criminal Code (opens in new tab) does not really define ‘insults’ and says: “Anyone who publicly insults another, even if it does not state any facts, shall be punished with imprisonment without work or with a fine.” In Japan, there is also the crime of slander, which is more severely punished.
“There has to be a guideline that differentiates what counts as an insult,” said Japanese lawyer Seiho Cho said CNN (opens in new tab). “For example, even if someone is currently calling the leader of Japan an idiot, under the revised law that might be considered an insult.”
After the change was passed, Hana Kimura’s mother said at a news conference that she pushed for the change because the existing penalties weren’t severe enough. “I wanted people to know it was a crime,” said Kyoko Kimura (opens in new tab).
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