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In Japan, making “online insults” can now land you with a year in jail

New law.
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To address what it describes as “cyberbullying,” Japan has passed a law criminalizing “online insults.” Breaking the law will result in up to one year in jail or a fine.

As reported by the Japan Times, the law was passed on Monday and its enforcement will begin this summer. It was passed due to public outcry after professional wrestler Hana Kimura committed suicide in 2020 after being insulted online.

Before the passing of the legislation, insults were still an offense with a punishment of a maximum of 30 days in jail and a ¥10,000 (approximately $75) fine. According to the Japan Times, following the death of Kimura, two men were charged and slapped with a ¥9,000 each (approximately $70) fine for insulting the celebrity. The public felt that was not enough of a punishment and called for a stricter law.

The new “online insults” legislation carries a maximum of one year in jail or a ¥300,000 (approximately $2,870) fine.

Japan’s penal code defines insults as “publicly demeaning someone’s social standing without referring to specific facts about them or a specific action.” It differs from defamation, which must include facts about someone.

Critics have noted that the law could have a chilling effect on free speech. It is also unclear if the law will apply to criticism of political leaders and government officials.

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