Japan Increases Legal Punishment for Cyberbullying After Death of ‘Terrace House’ Star
Japan has made online insults punishable by up to a year in prison in an effort to combat cyberbullying. Moves to amend the country’s penal code gained momentum after Hana Kimura, a 22-year-old professional wrestler and breakout star of Netflix’s hit reality show Terrace House, died by suicide in 2020 after receiving a wave of hateful messages on social media.
Lawmakers approved the changes to Japan’s penal code earlier this week, lifting the maximum penalty for the crime of “insulation” to one year in prison and 300,000 yen ($2,250) from the prior level of 30 days detention and 10,000 yen ($75). The statute of limitations on prosecution was also increased from one year to three. The changes will come into effect in July.
Kimura’s death brought the issue of cyberbullying to greater attention in Japan due to the highly visible and toxic nature of the abuse she had experienced. Two men who posted online insults to her social media accounts shortly before her death — tweets like, “Is there any value to your life?” and “Hey, when are you going to die?” — were each fined 9,000 yen last year.
The reality star’s mother, Kyoko Kimura, then began campaigning to strengthen Japan’s cyberbullying law, complaining that her daughter’s abusers had been insufficiently punished.
“I wanted people to know that this is a crime,” Kyoko Kimura said at a press conference in Tokyo earlier this week after the legislation was passed.
In Japan, insults are distinguished from defamation in that the former involves publicly demeaning someone without referring to a specific situation or action.
Some lawmakers and advocates in Japan opposed the changes to the law, voicing concerns that it could have a chilling effect on free speech and prevent legitimate criticism of politicians and public figures. To address this concern, a supplementary provision was added to the bill requiring that a review be conducted within three years to assess the impact on free speech.