On Monday, June 13, the Japanese parliament passed legislation that would make online insults punishable by up to one year in prison.
The new legislation, which amends the country’s penal code, is poised to come into effect later this summer. If convicted of making online insults an offender can be punished by up to one year in prison or be fined 300,000 yen ($US 2,225.40), CNN reported.
Previously, offenders potentially faced 30 days of detention and a fine of 10,000 yen ($US 74.18) for insulting someone online..
The new legislation also extends the statute of limitations for such offenses from one year to three.
The new legislation is largely believed to be a reaction to the suicide death of Hana Kimura, who at 22-years old took her own life after receiving multiple hateful online messages, according to The Japan Times.
Kimura was a professional wrestler and star of Netflix’s reality show “Terrace House.”
The new legislation is facing considerable criticism by lawmakers who are attempting to find a balance between free speech and hate speech online.
Seiho Cho, a Japan-based criminal lawyer, told CNN that the revised law gave no classification of what constitutes an insult. “There needs to be a guideline that makes a distinction on what qualifies as an insult. For example, at the moment, even if someone calls the leader of Japan an idiot, then maybe under the revised law that could be classed as an insult,” he said.
In Japan, insults and defamation are considered two different crimes.
According to Japan’s Ministry of Justice, insults are defined as publicly demeaning someone’s social standing without referring to specific facts about them or a specific action while defamation alleges facts about a person, CNN reported.
Hana Kimura’s death
On May 23, 2020, Kimura posted self-harm images on Twitter and Instagram alongside hateful comments she was receiving online, according to Variety.
She was found dead by suicide later that day.
Around 7-months later on December 15, 2020 police announced the arrest of a man in his mid-20s for cyberbullying.
The accused, who resided in the Osaka Prefecture, admitted to the allegations and was quoted by police as saying, “couldn’t forgive Kimura’s attitude on the program.”
In March 2021, the Tokyo Prosecutor’s Office indicted the man for online abuse directed at Kimura, however the man was not required to face trial under the indictment.
The man was issued a fine of 9,000 yen ($US 80.00) for his actions prompting many to protest saying the punishment was too light.
In April 2021, Tokyo Metropolitan Police charged another man in his late 30s for online abuse he had sent Kimura. The second man, from Fukui Prefecture, admitted to the allegations under questioning telling investigators, “Many hateful messages had been posted, and I followed suit. I’m sorry.”
According to 411mania.com, when the man was asked why he sent the messages he said he was, “simply joining in with what he saw others doing on her site.”
Kyoko Kimura, Hana’s mother, filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court in January of 2021, seeking damages of 2.94 million yen ((US$ 27,000) against a third man for causing emotional distress to her family, Kyodo News reported.
On May 19, 2021 a Japanese Court Judge, Momoko Ikehara, ordered the third man to pay Kimura’s family 1.29 million yen ($US 12,000.00).