Japan party seeks to ban possession of child porn

TOKYO Sun Feb 24, 2008 9:57pm EST

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's ruling party plans to ban possession of child pornography after pressure from the United States to fall in with industrialised countries which have stepped up the fight against sexual exploitation of children.

The production and distribution of obscene images of people under 18 is already illegal under a 1999 law, but there is no law banning individuals from possessing such material.

Asked whether such a ban would be introduced, an official at the office of a former Justice Minister who was picked to head a committee on the issue said: "We are basically moving in that direction."

But the official added that the committee set up by Liberal Democratic Party had yet to begin its deliberations.

Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama said earlier this month that possession of obscene images of children should be banned.

Most child porn investigations cut across international borders and the United States has urged Japan to clamp down on possession of child porn, so that it can better cooperate with police from other countries.

"Because it is legal in Japan to possess child pornography, it is almost impossible for investigators here to obtain search warrants to confiscate and search suspects' computers," U.S. ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer said in an article in the English language Daily Yomiuri last month.

Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United States have all banned possession of child porn, while Russia and Japan have not, he added.

"Unlike some people in adult pornography, children are not willing or paid participants," Schieffer said in his article. "In fact, the majority of images and videos depict the violent and brutal sexual assault of children, most of them younger than 12 years old. We are talking about child rape."

The proposed amendment to the 1999 law will likely exclude animated and drawn images, for fear of infringing on the right to freedom of expression, the daily Mainichi Shimbun said at the weekend.

Given that an individual could inadvertently be in possession of child porn sent as junk mail, there will also likely be a requirement to prove that a suspect collected the material deliberately, the Mainichi said.

Anyone found guilty under the new law, which the LDP hopes will be submitted to parliament by a cross-party group, would likely be fined, the report said. But some in the main opposition Democratic Party have expressed concern that a tighter law could result in harassment by investigators, it said.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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