‘Rule of law’ has its challenges

Tokyo

Regarding the May 10 letter “Due process of lese-majeste law“: Many thanks to Ambassador of Thailand Virasakdi Futrakul for impressing three points on readers. These points are as relevant in Japan as they are in his country:

(1) The ambassador begins by declaring that “Thailand is a democracy with a constitutional monarchy. Hence its monarchy, while highly revered, is above partisan politics.” Given the recent death of a lese-majeste law offender in a Thai prison, his logic could seem like an insult to democracy.

In 1947, the Japanese Constitution proclaimed that sovereign power resides with the people. Nonetheless, teachers in Osaka today have been scrutinized, by order of Mayor Toru Hashimoto, as to whether they lip-synched during the singing of the national anthem. How different is that from 17th-century Japanese Christians being forced to step on Mother Mary’s image? “Silence” author Shusaku Endo must be turning over in his grave.

(2) To say that the Thai king reigns “but does not rule” is nothing but near-supernatural reverence. Given this kind of unrestrained extension, the popularity of a sovereign power is destined to erode gradually through the action of government.

Additionally, the ambassador’s reasoning is far out when he writes that “those who abuse their rights by spreading hate speech or distorted information to incite violence and hatred among Thais as well as toward the monarchical institution in contravention of the law must be held accountable in accordance with the law.” Freedom of speech cannot be invoked under these circumstances.

Consider the recent social deaths of the former principal of Mitaka High School and the teachers denied re-employment after 60 (for not following national anthem rules). In the first half of the 20th century, Japanese imperial Cabinets, making use of the ambassador’s first and second points of logic, were responsible as a governing organ for the deaths of Sakae Osugi and journalist Shusui Kotoku, while novelist Takiji Kobayashi and philosopher Kiyoshi Miki died in prison because of their belief, ideas and dignity.

(3) The ambassador concludes that legal proceedings against lese-majeste offenders “were carried out in accordance with Thai law.” Legal proceedings also were carried out against Kotoku and 23 other defendants in accordance with imperial Japanese law, before their execution. More recently, the former principal, Nobuo Doi, and the teacher retirees were accorded due process under Japanese law, including the right to a fair trial, due opportunity to contest the propriety of the administration-led education authority denying their re-employment, and the right to appeal to a higher court.

Adding insult to injury is the license to practice law held by Mayor Hashimoto, which is awarded to only a few thousand successful bar exam applicants each year in a democracy of nearly 130 million people. No wonder silence is considered golden when it comes to putting bread on the table.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

fumio sakuragi