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Infringing the Freedom to Hate

By Nobuaki Masaki

SNA (Tokyo) — The global conversation on hate speech has seen a resurgence due to US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s appeals to racism, but hate speech does not exist only within the scope of US presidential elections — in Japan it has been largely unimpeded since the turn of the decade.

On April 8, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito jointly submitted to the House of Councillors a bill seeking to regulate hate speech targeting Zainichi Koreans (Koreans with permanent resident status in Japan). The opposition parties had already submitted a similar bill last May.

Yurakucho DudeLast year’s opposition-sponsored bill crucially included a ban on racial discrimination — but this is not included in the bill submitted by the ruling coalition this month. Both bills fail to stipulate any specific penalties for engaging in hate speech. Even so, the ruling coalition is worried that the opposition’s approach would have been too heavy-handed, and would have infringed on freedom of expression, a right guaranteed by the Constitution.

Although hate speech is not an issue that receives a great deal of public recognition in Japan, violent and aggressive speech targeting resident Koreans has been prevalent in Japan since around 2012. On March 30, the Ministry of Justice released survey results on hate speech targeting specific races and found that from April 2012 to September 2015, there had been 1,152 demonstrations in 29 prefectures by organizations said to be engaging in hate speech.

Of these organizations, the most prominent is the ultra-nationalist Zaitokukai (Citizens’ Association That Will Not Permit Special Privileges for Resident Koreans).

In July 2014, the Zaitokukai was fined 12 million yen (about US$110,000) in reparations by the Osaka High Court — utilizing UN conventions that Japan had signed — for disturbing classes taking place at the Kyoto Korean School. The Zaitokukai reportedly used loudspeakers to make inflammatory statements such as, “Cockroaches, maggots, go back to the Korean Peninsula.” The Zaitokukai appealed the judgment to the Supreme Court, but this was rejected.

In August 2014, the United Nation’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, after watching videos of anti-Korean demonstrations taking place in Japan, recommended Japan to ban hate speech. Committee members were reportedly very harsh on the Japanese government, claiming that a ban on hate speech would not infringe freedom of expression.

During this time, when international pressure to ban hate speech was escalating, media sources reported a connection between the Abe Cabinet and the Zaitokukai. In late 2014, a photo of Eriko Yamatani, then the minister overseeing the National Police Agency, posing with Shigeo Masuki, a former official of the Zaitokukai, became a subject of controversy. In a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on September 25, 2014, Yamatani was grilled by journalists on this subject. Yamatani responded that she did not have a relationship with Masuki, despite him saying that he had known her for fifteen years. She also failed to specifically reject the Zaitokukai’s worldview.

During the same time period, photos of Tomomi Inada, the Liberal Democratic Party’s policy chief, and Sanae Takaichi, Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications, posing with a leader of a neo-Nazi organization in Japan, also surfaced on the web.

Many voices within Japan’s ruling party have argued that banning hate speech raises concerns from the perspective of protecting the freedom of expression. Ironically, however, it is the Abe administration itself that is now becoming a focus of international concern regarding its own alleged attempts to intimidate the news media. For example, Minister Sanae Takaichi’s statement this February that the government could shut down “biased” broadcasters sits in an uncomfortable relationship to the view of some ruling party lawmakers that those who engage in hate speech may simply be exercising their free speech rights.

The bill submitted by the ruling coalition does not include a ban on hate speech, and probably does not satisfy the UN’s demands for decisive legislative action.

Nobuaki Masaki is a contributing writer to the Shingetsu News Agency.