Japan to clamp down on suicide sites and stress more proactive support after 'Twitter murders'

Serial killer suspect Takahiro Shiraishi being transported to the prosecutor's office in Tokyo on Nov 1, 2017. PHOTO: AFP/JIJI PRESS

TOKYO - Japan will tighten access to harmful websites and ban social media posts promoting suicide to prevent a repeat of the "Twitter murders" this year in which the killer preyed on his victims' suicidal thoughts.

The police, in more urgent cases, will work with suicide prevention groups to more proactively reach out to confirm the safety of at-risk individuals who might have posted about their suicidal thoughts online.

These were among the countermeasures mooted by a government panel on Tuesday (Dec 19), as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga vowed to prevent "such a brutal and evil event from occurring ever again".

Takahiro Shiraishi, 27, who faces the death penalty if convicted of murder, has confessed to killing eight women and one man aged between 15 and 26, and then dismembering their bodies. Nine heads and 240 bones were found in his Kanagawa apartment near Tokyo.

The spate of violent murders sent shock waves across highly wired Japan, a nation of few crimes but with the second-highest suicide rate after South Korea among developed nations in Asia. There were 19.5 suicides per 100,000 people in 2014, below South Korea's 27.3 per 100,000 people in the same year.

The issue of mental health is in the spotlight after the suicide of popular South Korean boybander Kim Jong Hyun, 27, on Monday. He went by the mononym Jonghyun, and was the lead vocalist of top K-pop group SHINee.

The two countries have been notorious for their pressure-cooker societies. Many of Japan's reported suicide cases have been linked to karoshi, or death by overwork. A white paper on suicide this year also identified school bullying, insufficient postnatal support for mothers, and the isolation among the elderly as societal causes that lead to suicide.

Mr Suga said on Tuesday that this issue will require more concerted effort among the relevant authorities, as well as the cooperation of social media operators and suicide prevention groups.

From February next year, Japan will restrict access to harmful websites to youth under the age of 18, through measures such as age filtering.

It has also begun doling out subsidies to local governments in 47 prefectures and 1,719 municipalities to tailor targeted steps to address suicide issues in their local regions.

The National Police Agency, meanwhile, said it is requesting the assistance of social networking site operators to strictly ban or delete posts that are found to promote suicidal thoughts or introduce methods to end one's life.

Shiraishi had boasted about being an expert in hanging techniques in entering suicide pacts with his victims to lure them to his home.

The National Police Agency added that it will issue takedown orders to social media operators against posts found to be in breach of these standards, while also relying on the public to raise the alarm on potentially controversial posts.

An earlier version of this story said that South Korean boybander Kim Jong Hyun was the leader of K-pop group SHINee. He was the lead vocalist. We are sorry for the error.

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