National / Crime & Legal

Japanese court issues first-ever injunction against hate-speech rally

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

A district court in Kanagawa Prefecture has issued a first-ever provisional injunction preventing an anti-Korean activist from holding a rally near the premises of a group that supports ethnic Korean people.

The injunction, issued Thursday by the Kawasaki branch of the Yokohama District Court, comes just over a week since the nation enacted its first-ever anti-hate speech law.

The law is being seen as a powerful new tool for use against racist vitriol routinely fired at minorities in Japan.

The court order was issued against an unnamed male resident of Kawasaki.

The man has a reported track record of organizing rallies threatening to kill “cockroach” Koreans and demanding that they be kicked out of the country.

He is the reputed organizer of rallies, some of which happened within a 500-meter radius of the group, named Seikyusha, and reportedly planned another this weekend. The court decision outlaws the holding of such rallies within a 500-meter radius of the group.

His past remarks are “clearly illegal” and “beyond freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution,” presiding Judge Hidechika Hashimoto said in a ruling.

Such behavior is illegal because it “infringes on one’s personal rights to live peacefully,” the ruling said.

The man was unavailable for comment on Friday, but the group in question expressed delight at the decision.

“We are very happy that children in the area will no longer be exposed to hate speech,” said Choi Kang-ija, a 42-year-old third-generation Korean resident of Kawasaki who works for Seikyusha.

Seikyusha filed for the injunction three days after the anti-hate speech law was enacted, said Tomohito Miura, the group’s secretary-general.

The legislation spells out for the first time what kind of language constitutes hate speech. This was critical in the court’s determination that the man’s activities constitute a tort, which is prohibited by law, according to Akira Maeda, a law professor of Tokyo Zokei University.

“Previously, there was no definition of hate speech, meaning the court had no legal criteria to refer to in deciding whether certain language infringes on a person’s rights,” Maeda said.

The brainchild of lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, the law calls hate speech “unforgivable,” defining it as threats to the bodies, lives and freedom of the non-Japanese, incendiary language aimed at their exclusion, and egregious insults.

The legislation faced criticism from some quarters because of its failure to actually outlaw hate speech and to penalize those responsible.

The Yokohama injunction, meanwhile, is reminiscent of a landmark ruling handed down by the Kyoto District Court in 2013 that obliged the far-rightist group Zaitokukai to pay damages on the grounds that vitriolic rallies it organized in front of a local Korean school violated the nation’s law banning tort.

The successful application of the tort law to hate speech is extremely rare, because in principle it only takes effect when specific individuals or organizations are targeted. Most hate rallies, as opposed to the Kyoto demonstrations, are directed at anyone within earshot — which usually includes Koreans.

The Yokohama court injunction shows that the anti-hate speech law has paved the way for a “more flexible interpretation” of the tort law, said lawyer Yasuko Morooka.

“The hate speech legislation, which calls discriminatory language ‘unforgivable’ regardless of whether it targets a specific audience, made it easier for the court to determine that what residents in that area have faced amounts to tort,” Morooka said.

Information from Kyodo added