National / Crime & Legal

Osaka enforces Japan's first ordinance against hate speech, threatens to name names

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

In a move welcomed by a local group of Korean residents, Japan’s first ordinance aimed at deterring so-called hate speech went into effect Friday in the city of Osaka.

Osaka’s ordinance defines hate speech as communication that defames and aims to exclude a particular group based on race or ethnicity, and disseminating such messages to a large number of people, including via online transmission.

It covers hate speech used at demonstrations, in public speeches, and the dissemination and viewing of DVDs of such activities, and aims to curb the posting of footage, images and words the city judges defamatory.

If a complaint is filed, a five-member panel of city-appointed experts will review the claim. Based on the panel’s conclusions, the mayor will decide whether to disclose on the municipal government’s website the names of individuals or groups judged to have engaged in hate-speech activities.

The city can also ask internet service providers to delete any of the offending content and take other steps to prevent it from being disseminated.

“It’s a big step forward,” said Moon Kong Hwi, a member of an Osaka group that has been fighting hate speech and pushed hard for the ordinance. The group filed a complaint Friday with the city against those responsible for posting footage of hate-speech rallies and discriminatory remarks on social media.

Because there is no national legislation clearly defining and regulating hate speech, there is little Osaka can do beyond naming and shaming those it says are perpetrators. Local bureaucrats have broad discretion in interpreting the meaning of public safety and can reject the use of public facilities by certain groups if they are determined to be dangerous.

The ordinance will thus likely make it difficult for those named hate-speech propagators to rent public halls or obtain permits for parades or rallies on public property.

On Friday, Moon’s group also submitted a petition to Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura, requesting that groups or individuals deemed to be engaging in hate-speech rallies and demonstrations be banned from using public facilities.

Former Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto was a strong supporter of a local ordinance to stop racist remarks against resident Koreans after the anti-Korean group Zaitokukai staged numerous demonstrations.

At a February 2013 rally in the Tsuruhashi district, home to one of Japan’s largest concentrations of resident Koreans, a 14-year-old girl joined one demonstration, screaming that she hated Koreans and that they should all be killed as Zaitokukai members applauded. The video of her was subtitled in several languages and posted on YouTube, stirring up shock and anger abroad.

In October 2014, Hashimoto held a debate with former Zaitokukai leader Makoto Sakurai that turned into a shouting match. Hashimoto told Sakurai that Osaka didn’t want racists like him and the other Zaitokukai members, and to stop harassing Korean residents.

As local, national, and international condemnation of Zaitokukai grew, efforts both in and outside Osaka to crack down on hate speech expanded. In May, the Diet passed an anti-hate-speech law. The law does little more than label such language unforgivable, however, and does not legally ban hate speech nor impose penalties on those who engage in it.

Last month in Kawasaki, another city with a large ethnic Korean population, the Kawasaki branch of the Yokohama District Court handed down a provisional injunction banning an anti-Korean group from holding demonstrations within 500 meters from the office of a citizens’ group fighting hate speech.

Sakurai, who resigned as head of Zaitokukai not long after his public clash with Hashimoto, is running for Tokyo governor as a non-affiliated candidate. His platform for the July 31 election includes a promise to support a hate-speech ordinance, but one that cracks down on “anti-Japanese” comments.