Japan makes ‘online insults’ punishable by imprisonment after TV star’s suicide

Japan’s parliament has passed a law making “online insults” punishable by imprisonment.

It comes amid growing public concern over cyberbullying sparked by the suicide of reality TV star Hana Kimura, who had suffered abuse on social media.

Under the amendment to the country’s penal code – due to come into effect in the coming months – offenders convicted of online insults can be jailed for up to a year or fined 300,000 yen ( around AU$3,200).

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This is a significant increase from existing sentences of detention of less than 30 days and a fine of up to 10,000 yen (A$107).

The bill has proven controversial in the country, with opponents saying it could stifle free speech and criticism of those in power.

However, supporters said the tougher legislation was needed to crack down on cyberbullying and online harassment.

It was passed only after adding a provision requiring the law to be reviewed three years after it came into force to assess its impact on freedom of expression.

Under Japan’s criminal code, insults are defined as a public attack on a person’s social status without referring to specific facts about them or a specific action, according to a Justice Ministry spokesperson.

Crime is different from defamation, which is defined as publicly putting someone down by pointing out specific facts.

Both are punishable by law.

Seiho Cho, a Japan-based criminal lawyer, warned that the revised law gave no classification of what constitutes an insult.

“There needs to be a guideline that makes a distinction on what is considered an insult,” Cho said.

“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 death of Hana Kimura

The issue of online harassment has risen to prominence in recent years, with growing calls for anti-cyberbullying laws following the death of professional wrestler and reality TV star Hana Kimura.

Kimura, 22, who was known for her role in the Netflix show terrace housedied by suicide and was found in her Tokyo apartment in May 2020.

Kimura, known for her role in the Netflix show “Terrace House”, died by suicide in 2020. Credit: Getty

Her death follows a series of suicidal tweets directing online criticism directed at her since terrace house the viewers.

The news sparked grief and shock across the country, with many pointing to the online abuse she had received from social media users in the months leading up to her death.

Other cast members have come forward to share their own experiences of online abuse.

Shortly after his death, senior Japanese officials addressed the danger of cyberbullying and pledged to expedite government discussions on relevant legislation.

Kimura’s mother, former professional wrestler Kyoko Kimura, campaigned for stronger anti-cyberbullying laws after her daughter’s death and started a nonprofit called “Remember Hana” to raise awareness about cyberbullying.

Kyoko Kimura, mother of professional wrestler Hana Kimura, spoke at a press conference in Tokyo. Credit: Hidenori Nagai/PA

Kyoko held a press conference after parliament announced its decision on Monday, praising the new law.

“I want people to know that cyberbullying is a crime,” she said, adding that she hoped the amendment would lead to more detailed legislation.

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