The suicide of a professional wrestler has now led to a new law in Japan. The Tokyo parliament passed a drastic tightening of penalties for online insults.

The Japanese parliament passed a law on Monday that provides for much tougher penalties for online insults . Under the new rule, which is expected to come into effect this summer, people convicted of posting insults can be sentenced to up to a year in prison or a fine of 300,000 yen. This is a significant increase from the previous penalties of less than 30 days in prison and a fine of up to 10,000 yen (about 70 euros).

Reality star suicide sparks debate in Japan

Efforts to change the country’s penal code had accelerated following the death of professional wrestler Hana Kimura. The 22-year-old, who also co-starred on popular Netflix reality show Terrace House, took her own life in May 2020 after receiving a spate of hate messages on social media. Two men in Osaka and Fukui prefectures have been fined 9,000 yen each for insulting Kimura online before her death, according to Japanese news agency Kyodo News. Discussions arose that the penalties were too light, which eventually led to the push for the law change.

Nevertheless, the bill was controversial in Japan. His opponents argued that he could impede free speech and criticism of those in power. The law was only passed after adding a provision that it would be reviewed three years after it came into force to assess its impact on freedom of expression.

Under Japan’s Penal Code, insults are defined as public disparagement of a person’s social status without reference to any specific fact or action, Kyodo News reports. The offense is distinct from defamation, which is defined as public disparagement of a person by reference to specific facts. Both are punishable.

Seiho Cho, a Japan-based criminal lawyer, warned that the revised law does not make it clear what exactly constitutes an insult, according to US broadcaster CNN. “There has to be a policy that differentiates what counts as an insult,” he is quoted as saying by CNN. “For example, if someone calls the Japanese leader an idiot, that could be considered an insult under the revised law.”

Kimura’s mother, Kyoko Kimura — also a former professional wrestler — advocated for tougher cyberbullying laws after her daughter’s death and founded a nonprofit organization called “Remember Hana” to raise awareness of cyberbullying. After the announcement of the parliamentary decision on Monday, according to CNN, Kyoko Kimura praised the new law and explained. “I want people to know that cyberbullying is a crime.”

Sources: “Kyodo News”, CNN