Sticks and Stones

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Japanese lawmakers passed a bill Monday that would make online insults punishable by prison terms and steep fines, legislation considered a major step in tackling cyberbullying in the country, Kyodo News reported.

The new rules come two years after the death of Hana Kimura, a 22-year-old professional wrestler who is believed to have committed suicide after receiving hateful messages on social media.

The changes would punish offenders with up to one year in jail or a fine of more than $2,200. The current legislation punishes violators with up to 30 days in prison or a fine of less than $74.

The bill will also raise the statute of limitations from one year to three.

In Japan, insults differ from defamation in that the former publicly demeans someone without referring to a specific incident. Both are illegal.

Still, it is unclear what exactly constitutes an insult punishable under the legislation. Some opposition lawmakers warned that the draft law can be used to stifle criticism.

But the bill also includes a supplementary provision mandating a review of the law to determine if it unfairly restricts free speech.

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