Make hate speech law stronger

Since the law aimed at curbing hate speech took effect a year ago, both the national government and local authorities have taken steps to combat the use of extremely offensive and discriminatory language against ethnic minorities in this country. It is important for community organizations and private-sector groups to join the efforts to enlighten people about why hate speech should not be tolerated.

Some concerned people have pointed out that the law is insufficient because it lacks teeth against those who continue to use hate speech. Lawmakers should respond to such calls for beefing up the measures.

The law defines hate speech as “openly announcing to the effect of harming the life, body, freedom, reputation or property of, or to significantly insult, persons originating from outside Japan with the objective of encouraging or inducing discriminatory feelings against such persons.” It condemns discriminatory language against these people as “unforgivable.” Offensive and derogatory speeches used in xenophobic rallies organized by groups harboring prejudices against Korean and Chinese residents of Japan prompted the Diet to enact the law. In view of the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution, however, the law does not prohibit hate speech or punish those who use such language in public rallies. Instead, it calls on local administrative authorities to carry out educational activities to eliminate hate speech and discriminatory behavior against foreign residents.

According to the National Police Agency, right-wing citizens’ groups bent on harassing foreign residents carried out 35 rallies from June 3, 2016, when the law went into force, through the end of April — or about half the 61 such events staged during the same period a year earlier. An NPA official attributes the decline to enforcement of the law and an increase in public awareness about the problem of hate speech.

Responding to inquiries from local governments in areas where a number of hate speech rallies have taken place, including the cities of Kawasaki, Kyoto and Osaka, and Fukuoka Prefecture, the Justice Ministry in February distributed specific examples of derogatory language and behavior that should be deemed as hate speech. They include threats to harm people of certain nationalities, like “Kill ——,” “Throw —— into the sea,” and “Go back to the country of your ancestry,” and insults comparing groups of people to insects or animals.

Despite its lack of punitive provisions, the law is believed to have produced visible effects in promoting action by local authorities. Last year, the city of Kawasaki banned a group from using a park to hold a hate rally — the first instance of administrative action of this kind. A bylaw introduced by the city of Osaka to cope with hate speech went into force shortly after the national law took effect. It calls on citizens to alert the municipal government to instances of possible hate speech. If a panel of experts determines that the reported cases, such as messages posted on the internet, warrant it, the city is to take action to prevent their spread.

In March, the Osaka panel recognized as hate speech language used in videos of a rally and two cases of propaganda activities carried out on the streets in 2013. The videos had been uploaded to the internet. The city this month disclosed the account names of the party that posted the videos while explaining their content. In the videos, phrases like “Kill, kill Koreans” and “Drive perverted Koreans out of Japan” could be heard. Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura said the city will consider revising the bylaw so that the city can identify the names of people posting hateful messages.

Despite these developments, groups with ideologies antagonistic toward foreign residents continue to hold xenophobic rallies. Some members of such groups are starting to use expressions not covered by the Justice Ministry’s examples but are still derogatory — such as “Korea must die” and “Please go into the Sea of Japan.”

Local officials need to secure enough manpower and funding to effectively assist citizens suffering from hate speech and behavior. Citizens’ groups can set up funds to help victims sue for damages. Since the law covers only hate speech against foreign residents, there are calls for expanding its scope to fight offensive language against other minorities, including people with disabilities, indigenous peoples like the Ainu and descendants of historically segregated communities. Lawmakers should not hesitate to take new steps that will contribute to the better protection of the human rights of foreign residents and other minorities in Japan, and to building a society free from hatred and prejudice.