Osaka assembly passes nation’s first ordinance against hate speech

by

Staff Writer

The city of Osaka passed the nation’s first ordinance by a major city against hate speech late Friday.

The text is a watered-down version of a proposal that the assembly made last year and will serve merely to name and shame perpetrators.

It does not provide city funds to victims of hate speech for use in fighting the perpetrators in court. Nor does it fine those who make racial slurs and threats of violence.

Instead, the ordinance creates a committee that investigates allegations of hate speech filed by Osaka residents.

The committee is expected to consist of five academic and legal experts whose appointments must be approved by the assembly. If the committee judges that a particular group is engaged in hate speech, its name will be posted on the city’s website.

Last year’s version of the ordinance failed to win the assembly’s approval because of disagreement over a provision that would have given the city the authority to loan money to victims who secure recognition by the committee and who want to take their case to court.

Although the ordinance was supported by then-Mayor Toru Hashimoto and his Osaka Ishin no kai (One Osaka) local party, the measure was opposed by the LDP and Komeito.

Earlier in the session of the the municipal assembly deliberating the ordinance, a man in the gallery threw two colored balls filled with orange paint onto the floor, bringing the discussions to a standstill.

When the man was subdued by guards, he resisted by shouting, “Protect the self-esteem of Japanese people,” Kyodo News reported.

After the disruption, the session resumed late Friday night.

Osaka became the international focus of hate speech in 2013, following an incident that February in which the anti-Korean group Zaitokukai held a rally in the city’s Tsuruhashi district, home to many ethnic Koreans.

In a video that was translated into numerous languages and placed on YouTube, a 14-year-old was shown screaming insults, death threats and racial slurs about Koreans as Zaitokukai members applauded.

That led to calls by Hashimoto for crackdowns on hate speech, which intensified after the mayor squared off in a heated debate with the head of Zaitokukai in October 2014.

Korean activists in Osaka welcomed Friday’s decision by the city assembly, saying it was an important step forward but that more needed to be done.

“It’s a shame that there are no penalties imposed on those who engaged in hate speech. But we welcome it as the first ordinance of its kind in Japan,” said Kwak Jin Woong, head of the Osaka-based Korea NGO Center.

How effective the new ordinance will be in stopping hate speech is difficult to determine. But city assembly members said last year that even without an ordinance, local bureaucrats could already use existing rules and regulations about public welfare to refuse permission for certain groups to use public buildings and spaces for such gatherings.

This is basically the policy that Kadoma, a city in Osaka Prefecture, has been pursuing since 2014, when it said it would not approve applications for use of public facilities by those who habitually engage in violent and discriminatory behavior. The city also said it may revoke permission for rallies if applicants are likely to engage in such behavior.

  • Jonathan Fields

    Having been a victim of hate speech in Japan, I still think this is a bad idea. Speech should be insanely protected. In extreme instances, there’s usually other behavior that can be addressed by laws already on the books (assault, interfering with a business, etc.).

    • GBR48

      There is a difference between someone voicing an opinion that many of us do not agree with, and a gang of people screaming at women and kids that they should die. The former needs to be protected as free speech. The latter is an act of abuse, threatening behaviour and a verbal assault, and should be a punishable crime.

      Is it impossible to determine which is which? No. That’s precisely why we have a judicial process.

      And there should be some form of state-funded prosecution service that allows members of the public access to a law to crack down on this.

      Once a group are recognised as sponsoring racial or any other form of hate crime, they can be prosecuted, fined, criminalised and pushed to the edges of society where they belong, their members being prevented from working in schools or within the political process.

      • Jonathan Fields

        But that’s already a crime, even if it’s not racially motivated… Criminalizing the content of speech is wrong.

      • GBR48

        I can understand your concerns about freedom of speech, which I share, but hate crimes are serious and need specific attention in law. Speech in not inherently benign. It can cause emotional distress, destroy reputations, damage a person’s income and incite criminal acts.

        No country has ‘free speech’. All nations have libel and slander laws, and hate crimes are usually acts of libel and slander, but against a group rather than an individual. It is therefore the duty of the state to defend that group.

        The United States may have a constitutional right to free speech, but in reality, should a media star say something that a group of people considers offensive, a brief twitter storm may see them sacked from their job. Instead of promising free speech and then allowing a virtual angry mob to decide peoples’ fates, surely it is fairer to codify these issues in law.

        Many cases of hate crime are frightening and distressing. They count as abusive or threatening behaviour and merit specific action. There are many suitable laws on statute books around the world, such as ‘incitement to racial hatred’, which can be adopted by Japan.

        All laws can be abused. That is not because of the law, but because of the environment in which the law is operating. It is no reason not to have them.

      • KenjiAd

        Well said. I would also add one more point.

        I think that, unfortunately, people in Japan are particularly amenable to manipulation by racial hatred, to the extent that their national identity is nearly synonymous with the ethnic identity.

        Once you accept the idea, as many Japanese people do, that there is something unique about Japanese, it’s already dangerously close to the idea that there is something “wrong”about non Japanese.

    • GBR48

      There is a difference between someone voicing an opinion that many of us do not agree with, and a gang of people screaming at women and kids that they should die. The former needs to be protected as free speech. The latter is an act of abuse, threatening behaviour and a verbal assault, and should be a punishable crime.

      Is it impossible to determine which is which? No. That’s precisely why we have a judicial process.

      And there should be some form of state-funded prosecution service that allows members of the public access to a law to crack down on this.

      Once a group are recognised as sponsoring racial or any other form of hate crime, they can be prosecuted, fined, criminalised and pushed to the edges of society where they belong, their members being prevented from working in schools or within the political process.

    • AmIJustAPessimistOrWhat?

      Since when has interfering with a business been illegal? Zaitokukai stood in Shin-Okubo’s restaurant district for months/years scaring away business with signs about Zainichi being cockroaches, with no legal response.

      • Jonathan Fields

        It’s a crime in Japan. 営業妨害. They did nothing about the Zaitokukai because their interpretation of the freedom of speech law is weird in Japan. They let people get away with a lot of stuff that would orgerwise be a crime if their 建前 is freedom of expression.

      • KenjiAd

        Actually 営業妨害 (interfering someone’s business activity) is not a legal concept, therefore not a crime per se. Many activities in and around a business can be interpreted as interfering the business – imagine road construction near a retailer, people loudly arguing in front of a restaurant, etc.

        There could be local ordinance to control these activities, but interfering with a business isn’t a crime per se.

        However, there is a crime called “威力業務妨害” (forcible obstruction of a business activity) in which one uses a force to prevent someone from carrying out their business activities. For example, blocking a delivery vehicle of a pizzeria, sending a bomb-threat to a theater, and so on, the kind of act that would make it very difficult or impossible for a business to operate.

      • Jonathan Fields

        I stand corrected.

    • Bruce Chatwin

      It is insane to protect advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

  • Jonathan Fields

    Having been a victim of hate speech in Japan, I still think this is a bad idea. Speech should be insanely protected. In extreme instances, there’s usually other behavior that can be addressed by laws already on the books (assault, interfering with a business, etc.).

  • Bruce Chatwin

    The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law”. Japan has signed (1978) and ratified (1979) the covenant. It’s time that Japan followed through on its obligations.