The Japanese parliament has passed a new law that imposes drastic penalties for insults on the Internet. So-called “hate speech” and online insults are now punishable with a prison sentence of up to one year. The debate was triggered, among other things, by the suicide of professional wrestler Hana Kimura.
Sentences of up to one year in prison for insults on the Internet
Hana Kimura was a well-known professional wrestler and actress who took her own life at the age of 22 on May 23, 2020. The reason was persistent insults and hate comments on the Internet, which led to the athlete hurting herself and ultimately taking her own life.
The culprits, two men between the ages of 20 and 40, were subsequently sentenced to ridiculous fines of the equivalent of around 80 US dollars initially. Later, the mother of the deceased was able to obtain further fines in the five-digit US dollar range.
However, the new change in the law in Japan (finally) provides for much more drastic penalties. Previously, the maximum possible penalty for insults and hate speech on the Internet for Japan was 30 days in prison. Now punishment is being extended. Up to one year imprisonment is possible from now on.
Fine penalties also offered
As NBC reports, the new law now allows for prison sentences of up to one year and fines of up to 300,000 yen, the equivalent of about 2,100 euros. Still, significantly more than the previous maximum of 10,000 yen (about 71 euros).
The law was passed last Monday, June 13, 2022, and will come into force in Japan from summer 2022. In addition, incidents can now be prosecuted for three years, previously the limit was one year.
However, the change also affects insults in everyday life, although these are more difficult to track because they are less prevalent, explains lawyer Ryuichi Nozaki of the law firm Atsumi & Sakai in Tokyo.
Vickie Skorji, directoin of the Japanese crisis hotline Tell Lifeline, sees the new law as a good approach, saying “Stricter punishment in itself is not the answer, but it’s the start of conversations and the start of changing attitudes on the issue.”
Critics, however, see problems with the change in the law. They fear that freedom of expression and freedom of the press will suffer as a result, in terms of criticism of public figures and celebrities.
In addition, there is a risk that the law will be abused because the definition is quite vague, says Sanae Fujita of the Human Rights Center at the University of Essex in England. As a result, the impact of the new law on insults on the Internet is to be reviewed again in three years. In the EU, the recently passed Digital Services Act is intended to protect users on the Internet from harmful content in the future.