Japan’s parliament has approved criminal defamation punishment of up to a year in prison after the suicide of a young reality TV star sparked a national debate on cyberbullying.
The country moved to toughen its defamation law after Hana Kimura took her own life aged just 22 in 2020.
Kimura, a professional wrestler, has been the subject of a daily barrage of insults on social media after her appearance on the hugely popular Japanese reality show ‘Terrace House’, which follows three men and three women temporarily living together in a shared house in Tokyo.
She received hate messages after her performance was criticized in one of the episodes. Just before her suicide in May 2020, she tweeted about the hundreds of despicable posts a day that hurt her.
Ultimately, two people were found guilty of defaming Kimura, but were only fined 9,000 yen, or $66. The small fine, comparable to an alternate side parking ticket in New York, sparked outrage who felt the punishment was far too lenient.
His death sparked a heated debate about anonymous bullying and the extent of free speech protections in Japan.
Opponents of the change argued that the law would impact free speech and thwart criticism from those in power. Supporters said tougher legislation was needed to crack down on cyberbullying and online harassment.
The charge to change the law was led by Kimura’s mother, Kyoko, who is also a famous professional wrestler. Parliamentary debates on the law have been taking place since January.
The amended law adds a one-year prison term – with an option of forced labor – and increases fines up to 300,000 yen ($2,220) for convicted offenders. It will come into effect later this summer.
Currently, the law only provides for short-term detention and fines of less than 10,000 yen ($74).
Due to the controversy, the law was passed only after it was agreed to be reviewed by outside experts every three years.
Japanese criminal lawyer Seiho Cho has warned that the law is unclear as to what constitutes an insult.
“There needs to be a guideline that makes a distinction on what is considered an insult,” Cho told CNN. “For example, at the moment, even if someone calls the leader of Japan an idiot, then maybe under the revised law it could be considered an insult.”
The legislation was approved by the upper house on Monday after being passed earlier by the lower house, the most powerful in Japan’s two-chamber parliament.
At a press conference after Parliament announced its decision, Kyoko told reporters that she hoped the amendment would lead to more comprehensive legislation.
“I want people to know that cyberbullying is a crime,” she said, according to CNN.
With pole wires
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or experiencing a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free, confidential crisis counseling.
If you live outside of the five boroughs, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.