America isn’t perfect. But we are still the most free-speech-protective nation in the world—and Japan just provided us with a disturbing reminder of why that’s so important.
“Posting ‘online insults’ will be punishable by up to a year in prison time in Japan starting Thursday, when a new law passed earlier this summer will go into effect,” the Verge reports.
“People convicted of online insults can also be fined up to 300,000 yen (just over $2,200),” the report continues. “Previously, the punishment was fewer than 30 days in prison and up to 10,000 yen ($75).”
Paging George Orwell… https://t.co/RGmyjGCYsc
— Brad Polumbo 🇺🇸⚽️🏳️🌈 (@brad_polumbo) July 8, 2022
This is an incredibly disturbing development. The law is ostensibly motivated by a desire to crack down on “cyberbully,” which, of course, is an unkind and wrong thing to do. But mean speech is still free speech by any proper estimation, and this law is so vague that it clearly imperils basic freedom of expression.
“At the moment, even if someone calls the leader of Japan an idiot, then maybe under the revised law that could be classed as an insult,” Japanese lawyer Seiho Cho told CNN.
A nation that threatens citizens with jail time for saying mean things about their leaders is very clearly no longer a free nation. Free speech is an essential human right, and vague laws that suppress it in the name of social harmony are a recipe for totalitarianism.
Thankfully, this kind of law wouldn’t last five minutes in the United States—because we have the First Amendment. But we could end up living through Japan’s dystopian nightmare one day if we don’t vigorously defend the First Amendment from those who would erode it.