Top court: Flier distributor trespassed

Freedom of expression crossed the privacy line

Kyodo News

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed an appeal by a Buddhist monk found guilty by the Tokyo High Court of trespassing at a Tokyo condominium complex to distribute Japanese Communist Party leaflets.

The top court’s decision will stir controversy because it could be seen as conflicting with the constitutionally guaranteed freedom to express political beliefs.

Yosei Arakawa, 62, was accused of entering the condo complex Dec. 23, 2004, and distributing JCP leaflets containing reports from local assembly members of the party the despite the presence of a notice banning the delivery of leaflets and fliers.

While brushing aside the view that the case focused on the legality or the constitutionality of punishing expression, presiding Justice Isao Imai said, “It violates the calm living environment of the condominium residents to enter there against their will, even if it is the exercise of freedom of expression.”

Arakawa remained defiant.

“The role of the Supreme Court is to put a stop to moves that suppress the freedom of speech, but it renounced that role,” he told his supporters.

Arakawa was arrested at an apartment where he had distributed fliers in the past. The entrance gate where the mailboxes were located did not have a lock, but he put the fliers in residents’ door mail slots, thinking that more people would read them that way. Residents complained when they saw him distributing the fliers and he was reported to the police. Arakawa was detained for 23 days after his arrest.

“I never thought distributing fliers to apartments, where various kinds of leaflets are distributed on a daily basis, would constitute trespassing,” Arakawa said. “I wasn’t told to leave in the past.”

He was initially acquitted by the Tokyo District Court, which ruled in August 2006 that it was not a socially accepted idea to punish people who briefly enter a residential complex to distribute leaflets.

But the Tokyo High Court fined Arakawa ¥50,000 in December 2007 on the grounds that the condo management union had banned the entry of outsiders in line with the wishes of residents.

The high court also said freedom of speech is not guaranteed unconditionally and no one is allowed to unfairly violate other people’s rights.

It was the second time a district court acquittal has been overturned in relation to a series of police crackdowns since 2004 in Tokyo on people who distribute political fliers.

In December 2005, the Tokyo High Court reversed a lower court acquittal and fined three members of a citizens’ group from ¥100,000 to ¥200,000 for distributing political leaflets at a housing complex for Self-Defense Forces personnel in Tachikawa, Tokyo, to express opposition to the dispatch of SDF troops to Iraq.