With Thursday marking two years since the enactment of a law against hate speech targeting ethnic Koreans and other minorities, local governments — required to take action under the legislation — called on Tokyo to present clear standards on how to eliminate racist propaganda.
Some municipalities have set their own guidelines to counter hate speech, but they find it difficult to strongly deal with the issue while maintaining freedom of expression.
Critics and human rights activists say the law has had little positive impact because it only takes a negative stance against such speech and does not impose penalties or fines on perpetrators. Instead, the law merely condemns “unjustly discriminatory” language and states such behavior is “unforgivable,” meaning it is up to local governments to decide how to handle the issue.
For example, the city of Osaka enacted an ordinance in 2016 in a bid to restrict hate speech. It stipulates that the names of individuals and organizations identified by the city as perpetrators will be released.
In March this year, Kyoto Prefecture began implementing guidelines designed to proactively deter hate speech at public facilities. The regulations prohibit parties from using public spaces when discriminatory behaviors are expected to occur, or when certain behaviors are projected to disrupt operations at such facilities.
Kawasaki also put similar guidelines into effect in March, allowing the municipal government to reject the use of public facilities only when prospective users meet both criteria used in Kyoto. A civic group seeking to eliminate discrimination has criticized the city’s guidelines as being toothless.
The municipalities’ struggle in the fight against hate speech centers primarily on how to respect freedom of speech, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
“It is hard to deal with hate speech when we consider freedom of expression,” said an official of Nagoya, which is now considering introducing an ordinance of its own. “We want the central government to provide specific advice,” the official said.
Kenji Yoshida, a member of the Kobe Municipal Assembly who is aiming to introduce a city ordinance against hate speech, said the central government must explain its interpretation of the Constitution with regards to freedom of speech.
“It is important for local governments not to fear the possibility of being sued and make a step-by-step approach (in tackling hate speech) by seeking judicial rulings,” Yoshida said.
In Osaka, a panel of experts requested in January that the central government draft a new law to enhance the effectiveness of the city’s anti-hate speech ordinance. Since the ordinance went into effect, the municipal government has attempted to disclose the names of those engaged in hate speech through online videos, but could not release their identities due to constitutionally guaranteed privacy of communication. The municipality revealed their usernames instead. The city believes it is beyond its jurisdiction to address the issue.
In response to requests for clarification by local governments, the Justice Ministry has provided specific examples of language that falls under the hate speech law. These include phrases such as “Kill (certain groups of people),” “Go back to your country,” and comparisons to “cockroaches.”
Police across the country confirmed that, between the law taking effect in June 2016 and late April this year, 82 hate speech demonstrations had been organized by nationalist groups.
Choi Kang-ija, a 44-year-old third-generation Korean resident of Kawasaki who has long been grappling with those making online hate speech, said Thursday at a news conference at the Tokyo District Court that she is relieved that one of the alleged racists was sent to prosecutors last week.
The individual had claimed to be her neighbor and repeatedly threatened to kill her and her family over a period of more than 18 months, sending such tweets as “Koreans in Sakuramoto (district) shall die,” and “I’m planning to buy a hatchet.”
Afraid of being attacked, Choi could not go out together with her kids. She filed a criminal complaint against the person in August 2016.
“The reason I had to survive this ordeal is that I did not want to see criticism against discrimination silenced based on assault threats,” said Choi.
Her lawyer Yasuko Morooka said the enactment of the hate speech law was meaningful, as investigators responded to Choi’s complaint.