Cyberbullying now faces a ONE-YEAR jail sentence in Japan

Cyberbullying now faces a ONE-YEAR jail sentence in Japan as tough new rules are brought in following suicide of female wrestler

  • People found guilty of cyberbullying in Japan now face up to a year in prison
  • Wrestler Hana Kimura died after facing a torrent of abuse online in 2020 
  • Kimura’s mother campaigned passionately for the revised legislation
  • Fines for cyberbullying can now reach over £1,800, up from £60 previously 

People found guilty of cyberbullying in Japan now face up to a year in prison under rules implemented Thursday, which were toughened up after the suicide of a reality TV star who had been trolled online.

Pink-haired professional wrestler Hana Kimura’s death in 2020 prompted calls for stronger regulation of online abuse.

The 22-year-old was a fan favourite on Netflix hit ‘Terrace House’, in which six young people share a home while looking for love.

But she faced a torrent of abuse online, reportedly including comments like ‘everyone will be happy if you’re gone’, particularly after an episode in which she lost her temper after a housemate accidentally damaged her expensive wrestling costume.

The revised legislation follows a passionate campaign by Kimura’s mother, and now imposes fines of up to 300,000 yen (£1,839) or a year in prison – increased from previous penalties of up to 10,000 yen in fines or 30 days’ detention.

Pink-haired professional wrestler Hana Kimura, a cast member of the hit Netflix series ‘Terrace House’, died in 2020 aged 22 during the show’s run

The revised legislation follows a passionate campaign by Kimura’s mother, Kyoko Kimura (pictured)

Kimura was a fan favourite on the internationally popular show, in which six young people share a home while looking for love. But she was the target of a torrent of abusive online comments, such as ‘everyone will be happy if you’re gone’. Pictured: Hana Kimura attacks Giulia and Maika during the Women’s Pro-Wrestling Stardom – No People Gate at Korakuen Hall in March 2020

 Hana Kimurapictured during the press conference Bushiroad and Stardom on October 17, 2019 in Tokyo

The punishments are contained in legislation on defamation, which defines the crime as ‘a display of contempt towards someone without demonstrating facts in a recognisable manner’.

Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa said the beefed-up punishments are intended to make clear that cyberbullying is a criminal offence.

‘It’s important that we work to eradicate spiteful insults that can sometimes push people to their death,’ he told a press conference this week.

There was fury when another man was fined just 9,000 (£59) yen in March 2021 over online abuse directed at Kimura, without the case going to trial. 

He had sent online messages to the wrestler saying ‘You have such an awful personality. Is your life worth living?’ and ‘Hey, hey. When will you die?’  

Before her suicide, Kimura posted a series of troubling posts on social media, including a picture of herself with her cat which was captioned with ‘goodbye’. 

Though the issue of cyberbullying had been raised in Japan before Kimura’s suicide, the wrestler’s death prompted domestic and international scrutiny and put pressure on lawmakers to take action.

Kimura’s mother Kyoko Kimura has welcomed the new rules, telling reporters when the revision passed parliament last month: ‘I have a strong feeling of ”finally”.

But some free speech campaigners and legal experts are opposed to the change and have urged the government to ensure the tougher law is not used to target political criticism.

Kimura, a confident pink-haired professional wrestler, was a fan favourite on the Japanese show ‘Terrace House’, in which six young people share a home while looking for love

In 2020, the wrestler (right) posted a picture of herself with her cat on May 22, and captioned it ‘goodbye’, as well as other worrying messages leading up to her death that implied she had been a victim of cyberbullying 

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has warned that the legislation does not include any explicit provision protecting political speech.

‘The prison sentence is inappropriate as it will stifle legitimate argument and threatens freedom of expression,’ the group said in a statement earlier this year.

Kyoko Kimura has acknowledged the concerns about infringements on free speech.

‘I’m also strongly against misuse of the strengthened punishment in this sense,’ she said last month.

At least two men who sent hateful messages to Kimura have been fined, including one ordered to pay $1.29 million yen in May 2021 (£7,941 at today’s rates) in a civil lawsuit over a message sent to Kimura’s account after her death.

‘Terrace House’ was cancelled after Kimura’s death, but her mother has said those behind the programme ‘bear the heaviest responsibility’ and that she is planning legal action against them.

Reports at the time of Kimura’s death suggested producers had stoked conflict among members of the reality show that painted the wrestler in a critical light.

Kimura’s mother supported the reports, claiming that staff on the show encouraged her daughter to heighten the drama. 

Last year, the Tokyo District Court ordered Fuji TV and the production company to submit scripts, pre-edited footage and other materials after a request from Kyoko’s lawyers, according to Japanese media reports.

But they refused, citing ‘professional secrecy’, the Asahi Shimbun daily said.

The tragic star’s wresting debut came at the tender age of 19 where she fought against Reika Saiki.

She won her first title, the JWP Junior Championship, that same year.

Kimura joined women’s pro-wrestling organisation Stardom in 2019. There she won the title of Artist of Stardom championship twice. She also won the Goddess of Stardom championship.    

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