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Tokyo High Court upholds ruling calling city of Saitama’s refusal to publish pacifist haiku ‘unfair’

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

The Tokyo High Court on Friday upheld a district court ruling that called “unfair” the city of Saitama’s refusal to publish a haiku which referred to the Constitution and carried a pacifist message in its local newsletter .

The high court ordered the city to pay ¥5,000 in damages to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff’s haiku, which translates to “Under rainy-season skies/ ‘Protect Article 9’/ Female demonstrators cry out” (“Tsuyuzora ni/ ‘Kyujo mamore’ no/ Josei demo“), was submitted by a local haiku club in June 2014 to the Mihashi community center in Saitama for publication in the center’s monthly newsletter. The center, however, refused to publish the haiku because the message in the poem would be “divisive” and the newsletter must remain politically “fair.”

The decision not to publish the poem was itself an act that “infringed on fairness and impartiality,” the court said.

The community center had published haiku selected by the local haiku club regularly for over three years before refusing to publish the submission referring to the Constitution.

A group of lawyers representing the plaintiff welcomed the ruling, especially as it stated the importance of protecting the freedom to hold political beliefs in an educational setting.

“The ruling upholds the very purpose of this lawsuit,” lawyer Satoshi Ishikawa said at a news conference on Friday, referring to a portion of the ruling that said “freedom of expression should be upheld to the largest extent possible.”

The court’s ruling also implicitly questioned the validity of limiting freedom of expression under the premise of maintaining impartiality, lawyer Kazushi Kubota said.

However, the plaintiff’s request to have the poem published in the newsletter was not granted by the court, and so far, the city has refrained from doing so.

“I don’t understand why the city of Saitama is so adamant about not publishing my poem,” the plaintiff, who prefers to remain anonymous, said at the news conference.

The request to publish the poem, lawyer Shinichi Sasaki said, would be deferred to negotiations with the city following the ruling.

“Our ultimate goal is to have the poem published,” he added. As long as the city of Saitama grants that request, “we don’t plan to appeal further or take this case to the Supreme Court.”