Japan passes bill making ‘online insults’ punishable by one year in jail

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In an attempt to quell public concern about cyberbullying, Japan has passed legislation making “online insults” punishable by imprisonment.

The bill, passed by the Japanese government on Monday, has amended the country’s penal code and will take effect this summer.

According to the Japan Times, the amendment comes as a response to the death of professional wrestler and Netflix’s Terrance House reality star Hana Kimura.

Kimura, 22, died by suicide in 2020. News of her death was spread nationwide, with many Japanese citizens pointing to the ample online abuse and harassment Kimura received in the months before her death.

Offenders who post “online insults” can now be punished under the law with up to one year of jailtime, or fined ¥300,000 (approximately $2,870).

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Prior to this legislation, insults were still illegal, though the punishment was lesser, with offenders earning fewer than 30 days detention and a fine of ¥10,000 (approximately $95).

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According to CNN, under Japan’s penal code, insults “are defined as publicly demeaning someone’s social standing without referring to specific facts about them or a specific action.”

Insults differ from defamation in Japan, the distinguishing factor being that defamation must include specific facts when publicly demeaning another person. Defamation is also punishable under Japanese law.

The degree to which an insult will be punished under the new law has yet to be determined.

Regardless, opponents of the legislation have argued that the bill could impede free speech. Many critics wondered if the bill will also apply to criticism of those in power, like government officials and political leaders.

For this reason, the legislation was passed with a provision making it necessary to reevaluate the bill after three years in effect to determine its impact, if any, on free speech in Japan.

The Japan Times reported that following Kimura’s death, two men in Osaka and Fukui prefectures were fined ¥9,000 each (approximately $86) for posting online insults about the celebrity. Many Japanese citizens complained this punishment was too light, causing the public insistence on stricter legislation.

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