Rally participants protest the so-called “anti-conspiracy bill” at Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on the evening of April 6, 2017.
Protesters say ‘anti-conspiracy’ bill aims to suppress anti-government demonstrations
Thousands of people gathered in Tokyo to protest the so-called “anti-conspiracy bill” hours after the government submitted the bill to the House of Representatives on April 6.
The group Kyobozai NO! Jikko Iinkai (Committee saying no to the anti-conspiracy bill) and multiple other civic organizations held a rally at Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall, after which participants marched through the streets of Japan’s capital calling for the bill to be scrapped. According to event organizers, some 3,700 people took part.
“Suppression of protests against the government is the essence of this bill,” Yuichi Kaido, an attorney who has long been active in the movement against anti-conspiracy legislation, told the crowd. “Let us fight to kill this bill.”
Opposition lawmakers who participated in the event remarked, “The bill will turn the public into latent criminals,” “The bill is the modern-day version of the prewar Public Security Preservation Law” and “The prime minister said he would provide a careful explanation, but forcibly submitted the legislation.”
After the rally, participants marched in front of the Diet as they called out, “We don’t need anti-conspiracy legislation!” and “The bill has nothing to do with anti-terrorism,” while holding banners reading, “Simply having a discussion may become a crime!”
An estimated 3,700 demonstrators rally against a bill that penalizes conspiracies to commit crimes in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on April 6, saying it could lead to the extensive monitoring of citizens and the suppression of freedom of expression
Local councils, citizens raise red flag against new crime legislation
Almost 4,000 protesters marched in Tokyo on April 6 to voice their concern that a proposed law to enable punishment for planning crimes is one step toward an Orwellian society of surveillance.
“The purpose of the bill is to silence citizens opposing the government when these people haven’t actually posed any threat,” said protester Yuichi Kaito, a lawyer who serves as the deputy chief of the task force dealing with the anti-conspiracy legislation at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
A 44-year-old public servant from Kawasaki who attended the rally in Hibiya Park in central Tokyo chipped in with, “People who are involved in labor union activities are just ordinary people. If they were cracked down on, they would not be able to enjoy a normal life.”
The protesters marched to the Diet building to coincide with the bill being introduced for a debate at a Lower House plenary session in which the four major opposition parties have pledged to fight it.
A similar bill has been killed three times since it was first submitted to the Diet in 2003. It was criticized that it could be used to target ordinary citizens’ groups and labor unions as the law could be arbitrarily applied by the police and the government.
The government argues the legislation is required to fight terrorism by joining the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
It insists the new legislation is urgently needed as the capital prepares to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
But many citizens fear the legislation could lead to the suppression of freedom of thought.
The country has already experienced suppression in the years leading up to World War II. In 1925, the public security preservation law was enacted with the initial purpose of reining in communism. But its application was expanded to encompass attacks on critics, journalists and activists.
The prefectural assemblies of Mie and Miyazaki, as well as 34 other local assemblies across Japan, had issued statements as of April 6 opposing the legislation or calling for a cautious Diet debate, according to the Lower House.
Nagano Prefecture appears to be particularly opposed to the bill. Thirteen municipal assemblies in the prefecture, prodded by alarmed citizens, have made it clear they oppose the legislation, the largest of any prefecture in Japan.
The backdrop to this is what is known as the Feb. 4 incident of 1933, in which about 600 people in the prefecture–many of them teachers–were arrested on suspicion of violating the public security preservation law. Those arrested were suspected of harboring communist sympathies.
Local residents in Nagano Prefecture see many parallels between the current bill and the pre-war legislation.
“In my appeal, I ask, ‘Is it all right to repeat history?” said Yukio Nunome, head of the secretariat of a federation of civic groups advocating the protection of the pacifist Japanese Constitution.
In Fukushima Prefecture, four local assemblies adopted a statement opposing the bill.
“Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, we have always protested against the central government,” said Kiyoshi Ishikawa, a Japanese Communist Party (JCP) member of the Kawamata town assembly. “It is only expected that opposition to the anti-conspiracy bill is spreading due to concerns that it could breach freedom of thought.”
In Tokyo, the Kunitachi municipal assembly condemned the legislation as potentially leading to a society where individuals are under constant surveillance and turned into informants for the authorities.
Miyako Owari, a JCP assemblywoman who drafted the protest statement, expressed concern that grass-roots activities could be targeted, such as weekly gatherings held in the city.
“The bill concerns each of us since if it is written into law, we may lose the atmosphere in which we can freely voice our opinions and express ourselves,” she said.
The government aims to pass the bill in the Lower House by early May so that officials can underscore Japan’s efforts to fight terrorism at the Group of Seven summit in Sicily, Italy, later the same month.