A controversial bill to penalize the planning of serious crimes was passed through a lower house committee Friday amid strong protests from opposition parties and citizens, with the ruling coalition aiming to have it clear the plenary session early next week.
With shouting opposition lawmakers surrounding the chairman's desk, the "conspiracy bill" cleared the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee by majority vote of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito as well as the opposition Japan Innovation Party.
"We've explained the necessity and significance of the bill in a polite manner to gain broad support," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference, adding the government is seeking to have it passed as soon as possible.
The ruling bloc aims to get the bill through a lower house plenary session Tuesday so it can be sent to the House of Councillors the following day and enacted into law during the current Diet session through June 18, according to the parties' officials.
But the ruling camp is also considering extending the parliamentary session given the tight schedule as a result of delayed deliberations.
The committee vote took place a day after a failed motion of no-confidence in the justice minister submitted by opposition parties.
Protesting against the decision, senior officials of four opposition parties, including the main Democratic Party, called for Tadamori Oshima, the lower house speaker, to send the bill back to the judicial committee.
The bill to amend the law on organized crime is seen by the government as a necessary measure to protect the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics from possible terrorist attack.
But opponents say it could lead to excessive state surveillance and abuses of civil rights. Three similar bills failed to clear the Diet due to such concerns.
Those past bills proposed introducing a charge of conspiracy, but the new one reworded it as "preparations for terrorism or similar acts."
More than 1,000 protesters gathered around the parliament building, chanting, "Abolish the conspiracy charge right now!"
The bill will "change society and human relationships," said Hiroko Ando, a 65-year-old resident of Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward.
While the scrapped bills were aimed at covering broader "groups," the latest one stipulates the legislation applies to "organized criminal groups."
The proposed charge would apply to groups of two or more people found to have planned one of 227 listed offenses, with at least one of them having made specific preparations such as checking out a location or procuring supplies or funds.
Abe's government also says such legislation is a prerequisite for ratifying the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which Japan signed in 2000.
Earlier this week, the Democratic Party and three smaller parties submitted a no-confidence motion against Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, who is in charge of Diet deliberations on the bill, saying he had not given a sufficient explanation of the legislation. But the motion was voted down Thursday by the ruling parties in the chamber.© KYODO