Anti-nuclear activists were denied use of Hibiya Park by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government last week. The organizer of the planned rally, Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, has been holding weekly rallies in front of the prime minister’s office, and the rally set for Nov. 11 was to start in Hibiya Park before marching past the head office of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Most unfortunately, given the constitutional implications, both the Tokyo District Court and the Tokyo High Court sided with the government last week.
The reasons for denying the coalition use of the park were trivial. In previous rallies held in March and July, Hibiya Park was open to demonstrators, but this time, the officials said the turnout could hinder park management, affect visitors and block access to Hibiya Library. The officials say the rules are now being applied more strictly. More likely, the park officials are complicit in an attempt by the metropolitan government to curb the demonstrations.
The previous rallies were held in a reasonable and orderly fashion. Perhaps some park or library users had to walk a few extra steps around the large numbers of demonstrators, but that and the noise are hardly anything special in a bustling city like Tokyo.
If bothering people were the litmus test for allowing or rejecting applications for rallies, there would be no place inside the crowded confines of Tokyo to hold a rally of any kind whatsoever.
One wonders where the pressure comes from for the sudden enforcement of such petty rules. Anytime a demonstration or protest rally takes place, there will be some kind of conflict. The right to freedom of expression often entails some minor disturbances to some people. That is one of the results of exercising the right to freedom of speech. It isn’t always quiet. But such disturbances should not be used as an excuse to curb the right to freedom of expression because it is the foundation of democracy.
Significant public discontent over the dangers of nuclear power demands access to venues for expression. Tokyo’s public areas are excellent places for that expression. The magnitude of opposition to nuclear power deserves to be heard. Whatever one’s opinion on the future of nuclear power in Japan, the rejection of this application should be understood as a restriction on freedom of speech and expression, even though metropolitan officials claim otherwise.
Denying this reasonable application by citizens to demonstrate in a public space will unlikely be more than a small obstacle in the ongoing wave of discontent with nuclear power. But it’s an obstacle that should not be there at all.