Cyberbullying to Attract Up to One Year in Prison in Japan Under Tough New Law

People found guilty of cyberbullying in Japan now face up to a year in prison under rules implemented Thursday, which were toughened up after the suicide of a reality star who had been trolled online.

Pink-haired professional wrestler Hana Kimura, a 22-year-old cast member of the hit Netflix series Terrace House died by suicide in 2020.

The revised legislation follows a passionate campaign by her mother, and now imposes fines of up to JPY 300,000 (roughly Rs. 1.74 lakh) or a year in prison – an increase from previous penalties of up to JPY 10,000 in (roughly Rs. 5,800) fines or 30 days detention.

The beefed-up punishments are intended to make clear that cyberbullying is a criminal offence, said Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa.

“It is our belief that it’s important for us to work to eradicate spiteful insults that can push people to their deaths at times,” he told a press conference on Tuesday.

Though the issue of cyberbullying had been raised in Japan before Kimura’s death, the wrestler’s suicide prompted domestic and international scrutiny and put pressure on lawmakers to take action.

But some free speech advocates and legal experts are opposed to the new rules and have warned the government to ensure the tougher law is not used to target free speech and political criticism.

Last year, Facebook’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis announced the company was expanding the types of attacks that it would not allow on public figures on its sites, as part of an effort to reduce attacks disproportionately faced by women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.

The service disallowed severe and unwanted sexualising content, derogatory sexualised photoshopped images or drawings or direct negative attacks on a person’s appearance, for example, in comments on a public figure’s profile.