A citizens’ network aiming to enact an ordinance banning hate speech has been launched in the city of Hiroshima, amid the recent rise in online discriminatory speech on the basis of one’s country of origin, region or ethnicity.
The network, which consists of 30 organizations and 72 individuals seeking to empower foreign residents in Japan, is calling for municipalities to adopt the ordinance, which would include penalties against hate speech. But some experts are cautious about the legal restrictions because of potential conflict with the right to freedom of expression as stipulated in the Constitution.
At an inaugural meeting held in the city in early December, citizens opposed to hateful rallies against people with disabilities and foreign nationals took the stage and called for efforts to fight discrimination.
In 2016, an anti-hate speech law, which declared discrimination to be an unacceptable act, was passed on a national level. Nonetheless, discriminatory comments still flood the internet and social media — a fact that the citizens’ group recognizes as a problem.
For example, after the devastating 2014 landslide in Hiroshima, false rumors circulated on social media that foreign nationals had been looting the disaster-hit areas. On a question-and-answer forum on the internet, a post erroneously describing a specific neighborhood in Hiroshima as buraku (an outcast community) was long left unaddressed.
Yasuko Morooka, a lawyer from the Tokyo Bar Association who spoke at the inaugural gathering, stressed that “minorities are living in fear of discriminatory words and behavior on the internet.”
Some local governments have begun to impose criminal penalties for hate speech. In Kanagawa Prefecture, the city of Kawasaki, where an anti-discrimination ordinance was enacted in 2020, has seen almost no hate protests clearly violating the ordinance on its streets since then, which Morooka considers a breakthrough.
On the other hand, the ordinance does not include penalties against hate speech on the internet. “Discriminatory remarks on the internet should also be prohibited,” he said.
Kenta Yamada, a professor of speech law at Senshu University, said laws and regulations should be a “last resort.”
“There is a risk that those in power will apply them arbitrarily,” Yamada said, adding that Kawasaki’s ordinance was the result of a yearslong movement by citizens against a litany of hate rallies.
“First, we need to investigate the actual situation of discrimination in the city of Hiroshima. After that, civil society needs to examine whether an ordinance is necessary or not,” he said.
Municipalities across Hiroshima Prefecture are split over whether to enact related ordinances. In September, the city of Fukuyama passed an ordinance seeking to create a city that “respects human rights,” whereas the city of Hiroshima is not considering any specific measure.
The campaigners “need the support of many citizens to encourage the enactment of the ordinance,” said Lee Joo-ho, 71, president of a nonprofit called Kyosei Forum Hiroshima that serves as the network’s secretariat. “I want to expand the grassroots movement,” he added.
This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published Dec. 5.
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