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The Tokyo District Court convicted a government official Thursday of violating the National Civil Service Law for passing out copies of the Japanese Communist Party newspaper in 2003.

Presiding Judge Harumitsu Mori fined 52-year-old Social Insurance Agency employee Akio Horikoshi 100,000 yen, suspended for two years. Prosecutors had sought a 100,000 yen fine for the violation of the law that restricts civil servants’ political activities.

The last time a central government official was found guilty of violating the civil servant law was in 1974, when the Supreme Court ruled a postal worker guilty of involvement in the campaign of a candidate for the Diet.

Horikoshi distributed JCP newspapers to 126 households in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward on Oct. 19 and 25 and Nov. 3, 2003 — on weekends and a holiday — before the Nov. 9 general election. He was arrested in March 2004.

The judge said that although the defendant distributed the papers on holidays and did not cause problems for his coworkers, “He began distributing the party’s newspapers once or twice a month in his neighborhood about 10 years ago. His activities hurt the political neutrality of civil servants.”

The defense team argued that Horikoshi was not guilty because civil servants’ political activities are protected by the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression.

But Mori said government employees’ political activities can be restricted under the Constitution because if they were not, civil servants’ management of public organizations might become politically biased and hurt public faith in the government’s neutrality.

Horikoshi said the ruling suppresses the freedom of expression of government officials and vowed to appeal.

“This ruling may affect other people” by suppressing their freedom of speech, he said. “I don’t want to give up. I will continue to fight at a higher court.”

Kenji Kato, a lawyer with the defense team, said the ruling was unconvincing because it failed to explain why a criminal penalty was imposed on Horikoshi.

“The judge acknowledged that Horikoshi’s activities did not affect his workplace,” Kato said. “He should have told us what kind of damage political activities by civil servants can bring about.”

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