Japan has declared online insults punishable by up to a year in prison in an effort to combat cyberbullying. The country’s moves to amend the penal code gained momentum after Hana Kimura, a 22-year-old professional wrestler and breakout star of Netflix’s hit reality show Rooftop house died by suicide in 2020 after receiving a wave of hateful messages on social media.
Lawmakers approved changes to Japan’s penal code earlier this week, raising the maximum penalty for “insulation” to one year in prison and 300,000 yen ($2,250) above before that was detention for 30 days and 10,000 yen ($75). The statute of limitations for prosecution was also increased from one year to three years. The changes will go into effect in July.
Kimura’s death brought the issue of cyberbullying more attention in Japan due to the virulent and visible nature of the abuse she experienced. Two men posted insults online to her social media accounts shortly before her death – tweets like, “Is your life worth anything?” and “Hey, when are you going to die?” – was fined 9,000 yen last year.
The reality TV star’s mother, Kyoko Kimura, later began campaigning to strengthen Japan’s cyberbullying laws, complaining that her daughter’s abusers were inadequately punished.
“I want people to know that this is a crime,” Kyoko Kimura said at a press conference in Tokyo earlier this week after the law was passed.
In Japan, insult is distinguished from defamation in that the former consists of publicly demeaning someone without referring to a particular situation or action.
Some lawmakers and advocates in Japan oppose the changes to the law, expressing concern that it could adversely affect freedom of expression and block legitimate criticism of the law. with politicians and public figures. To address this concern, an additional provision was added to the bill requiring a review to be conducted within three years to assess the impact of free speech.