Japan accused of stifling freedom with new terror law

People protest outside the National Diet on June 15, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan.

Story highlights

  • Prime Minister Abe said the legislation is necessary to keep Japan safe
  • But critics claim it could put "democracy in hand cuffs"

(CNN)Japan's parliament has passed a controversial "anti-conspiracy" bill which critics say could be used to curb civil liberties across the country.

The bill, which has been criticized by both the Japanese Bar Association and the United Nation's Special Rapporteur, was passed early Thursday by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition, who hold a majority in the Diet, the nation's Parliament.
    According to Abe, the new laws will help to crack down on terrorism and organized crime in Japan ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by allowing police to arrest individuals and groups planning to commit offenses.
    "The law to punish terrorism preparation has just (been) enacted," he said Thursday. "We would like to implement the law appropriately and effectively in order to protect the lives and the assets of the Japanese people."
    But the Japanese Bar Association said in a statement the law would "highly likely infringe civil liberties," adding under the legislation people protesting a building site could be imprisoned.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe arrive in Florida in February 2017.
    In a letter to the Japanese government on May 18, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy, Joseph Cannataci, criticized the breadth of the legislation, including the wide range of crimes which people can be arrested for planning.
    "I am concerned by the risks of arbitrary application of this legislation given the vague definition of what would constitute the "planning" ... and given the inclusion of an overbroad range of crimes ... which are apparently unrelated to terrorism and organized crime," he said.

    'Substantial expansion of police power'

    Under the new laws, it will make it illegal to plan to commit 277 criminal actions, from arson to copyright infringement.
    Koichi Nakano, political science professor at Tokyo's Sophia University, told CNN the new legislation "fundamentally" changed Japan's legal system.
    "Unless a crime in committed in Japan, you don't get punished ... now if they think you are thinking of preparing to commit a crime, even before you're arrested, you'll be put under surveillance," he said.
    "It leads to a substantial expansion of police power to investigate people and put them under surveillance."
    Nakano compared the new legislation to the Peace Prevention Law enacted in Japan in 1925, which led to the country's infamous Thought Police.
    "At that time