Photo/IllutrationA line of protesters about 200 meters long voice their opposition to the anti-conspiracy legislation in front of the Diet building in Tokyo on May 18. (Tetsuro Takehana)

Legal experts, scientists and writers joined forces to denounce anti-conspiracy legislation as a serious threat to human rights and a tool that would put society under constant surveillance.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations organized a rally on May 18 that brought together about 600 protesters to a hall in Tokyo. The venue was so packed that some participants had to view the proceedings through a video monitor set up outside.

A Lower House committee approved the legislation on May 19 and sent it to the entire house. The government has said the legislation is needed to thwart potential attacks by terrorists and organized crime groups during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The JFAB, however, has consistently raised concerns about the legislation that would criminalize the mere planning or discussing of major crimes by members of an organized group.

A statement issued in the name of the JFBA president has said the law “would lead to a society under permanent monitoring, and there is a strong danger of widespread infringement of citizens’ human rights and freedom.”

Sota Kimura, a constitutional law professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University, noted the possible unconstitutionality of the proposed law at the May 18 gathering.

“The Constitution guarantees freedom of thought,” he said. “In terms of restraining punishment, it would not be desirable if it becomes a crime to simply go to a location (of a planned crime).”

Kenta Yamada, a professor of media law at Senshu University in Tokyo, said the law could be used for more nefarious government plans, such as eliminating from society people it does not want expressing their views.

Lawyer Teiji Izumiyama raised concerns based on his judicial background of heading the Sendai District Court.

He pointed out that courts rejected only 0.04 percent of the requests for ordinary arrest warrants submitted by police, casting doubt on the argument that the courts would provide a check on the new law.

Participants at the gathering also feared the law would make it more difficult to take part in public protests.

A 67-year-old woman from Saitama Prefecture said she noticed that police were photographing anti-nuclear protesters at a recent demonstration.

“If the legislation passes, the police will become more aggressive in collecting information, and that would discourage protesters from gathering at such events,” the woman said.

Other organizations have issued statements in opposition to the anti-conspiracy legislation.

“The legislation is not needed to deal with crime but would only put in place major restrictions on the daily lives of the people,” a group of criminal law scholars said in a statement issued in February that has been signed by more than 150 people.

The Japan Scientists’ Association issued a statement that said the bill was no different from previous failed attempts to criminalize the planning of major crimes. It called for defeating bills that trample on fundamental human rights protected by the Constitution.

In addition, the Japan P.E.N. Club, an organization of writers, said the law not only could heighten monitoring of people’s lives, but it might also label certain people as terrorists.

However, there were voices in favor of the bill. A group of lawyers who handle cases involving crime syndicates said early passage of the legislation was needed so Japan could join the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

(This article was compiled from reports by Ryota Goto, Wataru Netsu, Ryosuke Yamamoto and Seinosuke Iwasaki.)