Japan introduces up to one year in prison for cyberbullying

People found guilty of cyberbullying in Japan now face up to a year in prison under rules introduced Thursday, which were tightened after the suicide of an internet-trolled reality TV star.

The death of pink-haired professional wrestler Hana Kimura in 2020 prompted calls for stronger regulation of online abuse.

The 22-year-old was a fan favorite in the Netflix hit.Terrace house“, in which six young people share a house in search of love.

But she faced a torrent of abuse online, including reportedly “everyone will be happy if you leave” comments.

The revised legislation follows Kimura’s mother’s impassioned campaign and now provides for fines of up to 300,000 yen ($2,200) or a year in prison – an increase from previous fines of up to 10,000 yen in fines or 30 days in jail.

The penalties are contained in defamation legislation, which defines a crime as “disrespecting someone without showing the facts in a recognizable form.”

Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa said the tougher penalties are intended to make it clear that cyberbullying is a criminal offence.

“It is important that we work to eradicate vicious insults that can sometimes push people to their deaths,” he said at a press conference this week.

Although the issue of cyberbullying had been raised in Japan prior to Kimura’s suicide, the wrestler’s death sparked a domestic and international investigation and forced lawmakers to take action.

– ‘Final’ –

Kimura’s mother Kyoko welcomed the new rules, telling reporters when the amendment was passed by parliament last month, “I have a strong feeling of ‘finally.’

But some free speech activists and lawyers oppose the changes and are calling on the government to ensure that the toughening of the law is not used as a target for political criticism.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations warned that the legislation does not contain any explicit provisions protecting political speech.

“A prison sentence is inappropriate as it will stifle legitimate arguments and threaten freedom of speech,” the group said in a statement earlier this year.

Kyoko Kimura has acknowledged concerns about violations of free speech.

“I am also strongly against the abuse of enhanced punishment in that sense,” she said last month.

At least two men who sent hate messages to Kimura have been fined, including one ordered to pay 1.29 million yen in May 2021 ($9,500 at today’s exchange rate) in a civil lawsuit over a message sent to Kimura’s account. after her death.

Earlier that year, another man was fined a nominal amount for online insults against a wrestler and the case did not go to trial.

Terrace House was canceled after Kimura’s death, but her mother said those behind the program “bear the heaviest responsibility” and that she plans to sue them.

Reports at the time of Kimura’s death suggested that the producers had fomented conflict between the contestants of the reality show, which cast the wrestler in a critical light.