OSAKA – More than two years after the anti-Korean group Zaitokukai made international headlines with racial slurs and threats of violence, local governments around Japan are making it far more difficult for any group attacking minorities to operate.
As of last month, over 100 prefectural, city, town and village assemblies had released statements condemning hate speech. While not legally binding, they send a clear message to their local bureaucrats, who have discretion over approving requests to use public meeting facilities and granting permits for street demonstrations.
The hoped-for result, therefore, is that hate groups will find it more difficult to secure space to shout racist comments and go on threatening public tirades than was the case a couple years ago.
In the Kansai region, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo and Wakayama prefectures have all denounced hate speech. Municipal assemblies in Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and 16 other Kansai cities have also spoken out against hate speech. Given the huge influx of international tourists over the past two years, especially from East Asia, Kansai’s major cities in particular are worried about groups using its facilities and streets to spread messages of racial hatred.
Kadoma, a city in Osaka Prefecture, took the lead last year in doing more than just issuing statements. Under current regulations, the city has said it will not grant use of public facilities to groups and individuals who habitually engage in violent and discriminatory behavior.
In the event that permission to use, say, a public park for a rally has already been granted, Kadoma could revoke permission or stop the rally if it discovers the applicant fits the criteria for denial.
“Kadoma will judge all applications to use public facilities on the basis of protecting residents’ safety and dignity,” the city said in a statement.
Driving much of the concern at the local level is the impact such venomous and discriminatory speech and ideas might have on schoolchildren who walk past the rallies, or on those who can hear the rants from classrooms or other public facilities.
In June 2013, Yamagata Prefecture refused permission for a Zaitokukai meeting at a prefecture-run facility because it contained a library where children often visited.
Of course, deciding what constitutes hate speech and grounds for refusing permission for public rallies can be something of a slippery slope. With no legal definition of hate speech upon which court decisions can be based, leaving decisions about granting or refusing permission for public facilities to bureaucrats raises difficult questions.
For example, if local governments hosting U.S. military bases were to decide that anti-base protesters screaming “Yankee, go home!” are engaging in a form of “discrimination against foreigners,” could they, under the pretext of cracking down on “hate speech,” not allow them to demonstrate?
Or could atomic power plant workers claim anti-nuclear protesters are discriminating against them by staging protests and, to use the language of Kadoma, damaging their dignity and safety (economic) by making comments that they might claim are a form of hate speech? Would nuclear supporters then ask local assemblies overwhelmingly tied to the nuclear power industry to crack down on anti-nuclear demonstrations by claiming pro-nuclear workers risk becoming victims of anti-nuclear protesters’ “hate speech”?
As ridiculous as the above questions may sound, without specific national laws banning racial discrimination to guide them, the potential for local bureaucratic decisions that violate the constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly only grows.
Thus any entities sincerely attempting to control what most people would instinctively say is hate speech should keep in mind that old saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions.