Japan’s parliament passed a law on Monday making “online insults” punishable by imprisonment amid growing public concern over cyberbullying following the suicide of a reality star who had faced abuse on social media.

Under the amendment to the country’s criminal code, which will come into effect later this summer, criminals convicted of online insults can be jailed for up to a year or fined 300,000 yen (about $2,200).

It is a significant increase from the existing punishments of detention for less than 30 days and a fine of up to 10,000 yen ($75).

The bill proved controversial in the country, with opponents arguing that it could impede freedom of expression and criticism of those in power. However, supporters said stronger legislation was needed to crack down on cyberbullying and online bullying.

The rule was only passed after a provision was added that mandates that the law be re-examined three years after it takes effect to assess its impact on freedom of expression.

Under Japan’s penal code, insults are defined as publicly demeaning someone’s social position without reference to specific facts about them or a specific action, according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice. The crime is different from defamation, defined as publicly demeaning someone while pointing out specific facts.

Both are punishable by law.

Seiho Cho, a Japan-based criminal lawyer, warned that the revised law did not classify what constitutes an insult.

“There has to be a guideline that makes a distinction about what qualifies as an insult,” Cho said. “For example, right now, even if someone calls the leader of Japan an idiot, then maybe under the revised law that could be classified as an insult.”

Hana Kimura’s death

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

Kimura, 22, known for her role in the Netflix show “Terrace House,” committed suicide in 2020. The news sparked pain and shock across the country, with many pointing to the online abuse she had received from users of social networks in the months before his death.

Other cast members reached out to share their own experiences of online abuse.

Shortly after his death, senior Japanese officials addressed the danger of cyberbullying and pledged to speed up 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 created a non-profit organization called “Remember Hana” to raise awareness of cyberbullying.

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

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

See here the lines of attention and prevention of suicide in Latin America, the United States and Spain.

Call 1-800-273-8255 in the United States to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Provides free and confidential assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for people in suicidal or distressed crisis. You can learn more about their services here, including their guide on what to do if you spot suicidal signs on social media. You can also call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone about how you can help someone in crisis. Call 1-866-488-7386 for TrevorLifeline, a suicide prevention counseling service for the LGBTQ community.

For assistance outside the US, the International Association for Suicide Prevention provides a global directory of resources and international hotlines. You can also turn to Befrienders Worldwide.

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