Japan makes cyberbullying punishable by one year in jail

Japan has made online harassment punishable by up to a year’s imprisonment, in hopes of decreasing cyberbullying-related deaths.

Since the cyberbullying-related suicide of 22-year-old wrestler and TV personality, Hana Kimura in 2020, the Japanese public has become increasingly concerned about the dire impacts of online harassment.

Up until recently, the maximum sanction for “insultation” was reportedly either a fine of under 10,000 yen ($105 AUD), or under 30 days of detention.

Hana Kimura in Tokyo on March 8, 2020 | Credit: Etsuo Hara / Getty Images

Now, Japan has passed a new law, making online harassment punishable by up to a year’s imprisonment, or a maximum fine of 300,000 yen ($3,177 AUD). Additionally, the statute of limitations on prosecution has also increased from one year to three years.

While the new legislation also applies to offline harassment, the penalties for that are less severe because they are “disseminated to fewer people,” according to Ryuichi Nozaki, a senior partner at the legal firm, Atsumi & Sakai.

Upper House plenary session in Japan on Monday, June 13 | Credit: KYODO

Just last year, two of the men responsible for bullying Kimura online were each fined 9,000 yen ($95 AUD). The late athlete and media star’s mother, Kyoko, believes the punishment was nowhere near adequate enough, and has been consistently advocating for the strengthening of cyberbullying laws.

Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo on Monday after the law was passed, Kyoko said, “I wanted people to know that this is a crime.”

She also stated her belief that if social media platforms continue receiving the primary blame for online abuse, “nothing will change.”

According to Kyoko, “the issue is how we think. [Social media] is like a mirror that reflects the minds of those who use it.” She continued, “a stricter sentence by itself is not an answer, but it’s a beginning of conversation and a beginning of an attitude change.”