Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto is finalizing plans for a public debate with the right-wing, anti-Korean group Zaitokukai over the definition of hate speech and the need to balance freedom of expression with others’ human rights.
The debate, expected to take place in Osaka sometime this month, comes amid rising domestic and international attention to hate speech in Japan, and follows revelations of apparent connections between Zaitokukai and senior members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet.
Hashimoto is a populist who made internationally-controversial comments last year about Japan’s military wartime brothels, saying the so-called “comfort women” system had been necessary at that time.
He has nevertheless long been critical of Zaitokukai’s actions. In early 2013, the group marched in Osaka’s Tsuruhashi district, denouncing its many ethnic Korean residents. At that rally, a female junior high school pupil was filmed shouting that she hated Koreans and that they should all be killed.
Video of the incident was translated into several languages and it drew international attention. Hashimoto then became more outspoken, denouncing hate speech heard during a Zaitokukai demonstration in May 2013 in Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo district, another predominantly Korean neighborhood.
In July, the Osaka High Court ordered Zaitokukai to stop harassing a Kyoto elementary school with connections to North Korea and to pay ¥12 million in compensation for its actions.
Following that, Hashimoto said Osaka would consider ways to ban hate speech, indicating he would take up the issue when the city assembly held its autumn session. Zaitokukai protested, met with Hashimoto last month, and challenged him to a debate, which he accepted.
“If you’re going to say the special permanent resident system (for Korean residents) is bad, then say it to the Japanese government and the Diet members who created the system of special permanent residency,” he said last week. “To attack people without political power is both cowardly and bad form.”
“I will not permit discriminatory remarks in Osaka, and will make sure Zaitokukai knows this,” he added.
Plans for the debate come at a time when international concern about Zaitokukai’s political influence is growing. Last month, National Public Safety Commission Chairwoman Eriko Yamatani, the nation’s top cop, was revealed to have been photographed in 2009 with Zaitokukai members.
At a stormy press conference last week, she said that she did not know that the man she met, Shigeo Masuki, a former Zaitokukai official, had belonged to the group, and that she could not remember how many times they met.
Yamatani also refused to condemn Zaitokukai, saying it was not appropriate for her to pass judgment on specific organizations.
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