OSAKA – The Osaka District Court ruled Friday that the Japanese government should retract its decision to deny high school tuition subsidies to a Korean school historically related to Pyongyang, in the first ruling from among a number of similar lawsuits to approve the eligibility of such schools.
The court found the government’s exclusion of Osaka Korean High School from its free tuition high school education program to be illegal. The exclusion had been based on political issues, such as North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese citizens.
The school in Osaka is one of a number of Japanese government-authorized academic institutes known as Chosen Gakko, which are historically linked to groups representing pro-Pyongyang Korean residents within Japan such as the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan. South Korean residents in Japan and Japanese nationals also attend Chosen Gakko schools.
Friday’s decision contrasts with a July 19 ruling by the Hiroshima District Court, which rejected a petition by the operator of a similar Korean school in Hiroshima that called for the reversal of a government decision to exclude it from the free tuition program.
Aside from Hiroshima and Osaka, three similar lawsuits have been filed in Tokyo, Nagoya and Fukuoka, with the Tokyo District Court scheduled to issue a ruling on Sept. 13.
The high school free tuition program was introduced by the Japanese government in April 2010, as one of the key policies of the then ruling Democratic Party of Japan (now the Democratic Party).
Under the program, public high school students are exempt from tuition fees while private high school students receive financial aid to make tuition effectively free.
According to the Osaka court ruling, applications by Korean schools to participate in the program were initially subject to government scrutiny, but that process was halted after North Korea fired dozens of rounds of artillery onto a South Korean island in November 2010.
The government decided in February 2013, after the Liberal Democratic Party regained power, that Osaka Korean High School should be exempted from the tuition waiver program, in consideration of abductions of Japanese nationals and other issues related to North Korea.
The ruling drew applause and cheers from the school’s students, who were decked out in their ethnic school uniforms, as well as their parents and supporters in the courtroom.
“When I looked at the banner stating our victory, children’s faces came to my mind following their suffering,” Hyon Sun Ae, a mother of four who attend the school, said tearfully. “I was worried before the ruling but now I’m so relieved.”
In a statement the Osaka school welcomed Friday’s ruling, saying “it is a remarkable ruling as justice rescinds the unreasonable discriminatory act by administration.”
“We feel happy to see children’s right to receive ethnic education recognized and guaranteed,” the statement said.
But the ruling sent shock waves through the education ministry. Senior officials rushed to brief education minister Hirokazu Matsuno, and one dubbed the ruling “outrageous.”
In reaction to the ruling, a senior official of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said the government is expected to appeal it.
The government had argued in the trial that “it is not irrational that we decided the school is not meeting the necessary criteria, given the suspicion surrounding the adequacy of the school’s operation.”
The government had also expressed concerns that the subsidies may be misused, citing close links between the school and the pro-Pyongyang association widely called Chongryon.
As of May 2016 there were 11 Korean high schools in Japan teaching in Korean and providing a Korean cultural education, according to the ministry. Their nearly 1,400 students include those with South Korean or Japanese nationality.