No place for hate speech

In demonstrations repeatedly held in Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo district, home to many Korean shops and restaurants, participants have shouted threatening words such as “Kill both good and bad Koreans,” “Koreans, get out,” and “Sink them in Tokyo Bay.”

They ostensibly seek to stop what they regard as privileges accorded Korean and Chinese residents in Japan. Although the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, participants in the demonstrations mistake this freedom for the right to say anything. Their speech goes beyond acceptable limits and clearly constitutes hate speech. Although freedom of expression must be upheld by all means, legal measures should be taken to restrict hate speech that threatens people. The police and local public safety commissions should use all available legal means to prevent demonstrations that clearly threaten ethnic groups.

Similar hate speech is also being posted on the Internet by people usually referred to as “Net uyoku” (rightists). It would not be inaccurate to describe those who aim hate speech at Koreans and other foreign residents in Japan as bigots.

Some people may say that there is no need to take what Shin-Okubo demonstrators say seriously and that the best way to deal with them is just to ignore them. But the hate speech is causing more than unpleasantness — it is stirring up fear among those forced to listen to it. It is also harming the livelihoods of those people operating businesses in Shin-Okubo, which is just one station away from Shinjuku Station, one of Japan’s busiest stations.

Although those who have taken part in the Shin-Okubo demonstrations represent a miniscule percentage of the Japanese population, the demonstrations, posted on the Internet, are fueling anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea and China, and tarnishing Japan’s image in other countries.

Japan became a party to the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1995. But it has not yet implemented laws that give teeth to the treaty. In its January 2013 report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination established under the convention, Japan said that the idea of racial discrimination is not so rampant in Japanese society as to require legislative action. But the report ignored the ugly demonstrations in Shin-Okubo and on the Internet.

On the basis of Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality under the law, the Diet should enact a law that prohibits ethnic discrimination by specifically defining what kinds of actions constitute it. Lawmakers and legal professionals should begin informed discussions on the possibility of enacting legislation to allow the police to arrest people who threaten to harm others based solely on their ethnicity. Such a law should not restrict expressions used in movies, the theater, literature, songs, and so on. But it would enable authorities to prevent the holding of threat-spewing demonstrations. People who suffer psychological damage from hate speech would be able to file suits for compensation.

Lawmakers, legal professionals and ordinary citizens should build a united front against hate speech, which undermines the principles of a democratic society.

  • What they are doing is illegal because a threat of force is an act of force. Not because it’s hate speech.

    Using this issue to endorse “hate speech” is the attempt to package-deal a rights-violating concept (hate speech) with legitimate outrage at an actual rights violation.

    Who is going to agree with these protests? Who is going to come out as pro-initiation of violence? Obviously no one is for this. But opinions like this editorial are the attempt to hijack civilized people’s disagreement with borderline violent bigots by proclaiming that the only course of action is to enact “hate speech” laws.

    But the problem is not hate. The problem is that they have threatened violence against others. The reason for which they have threatened violence should be irrelevant before the law. This is why, legally, “hate speech” is irrelevant, because what qualifies as law-breaking is not someone’s motives or intentions —- it’s what they actually do.

    To spin the issue by branding it as one of “hate speech” is to enable the state to stamp out further “hate speech”; where “further hate speech” necessarily leads to the censorship of non-violent, politically unpopular speech, and later, whatever kind of speech that doesn’t sit well with the democratic majority of the moment.

    This caveat that, “Such a law should not restrict expressions used in movies, the theater, literature, songs, and so on”, is totally powerless. Anti-violence hate speech laws will spawn non-violent political speech laws, which then allow censorship in the context of demonstrations and protests. What’s to stop it? At that point, it is only logical that this censorship spread to movies, art, literature and so on. Firstly, beginning with the kind of art that has political themes. Do you really want to become more like China?

    So, who is really “undermining the principles of a democratic society”?

    Finally, to give an example of why “hate speech” is superfluous, in the column it’s written:

    “Lawmakers and legal professionals should begin informed discussions on the possibility of enacting legislation to allow the police to arrest people who threaten to harm others based solely on their ethnicity.”

    Why is “based solely on their ethnicity.” added to this sentence? Shouldn’t it just read like this: “As we already have laws to deal with this, Police should be pressured by the public to consistently enforce the rule of law — since that is their ONLY job.”. But I suppose focusing on the rule of law is not progressive enough. So let’s make this an issue one of ethnicity and not of coercion. Let’s focus on the legal wrong being “hatred”, rather than the threat of physical violence.

    Indeed, only a clear definition and consistent protection of individual rights can protect us from both the violent elements within civilization — and from the most dangerous element of all: the state itself. Hate speech laws are an unnecessary slippery slope to censorship of legitimate speech. They are not required in order arrest and punish those who utter threats, such as these criminals in Shin-Okubo. The state need only the backbone to consistently protect individual rights based upon the standard of the presence of force, the threat of force, or fraud: not on the dangerous precedent of establishing the vague, undefined, “hate speech” as a legal standard.

    • gnirol

      Yes, my understanding, at least from US law, which I know doesn’t apply here, is that you are “assaulting” a person if you are threatening them, the threat is expressed in a serious mien (“Oooh, you won another hand of gin rummy. I’m gonna kill you,” doesn’t count), and have the wherewithal to carry out the threat. Those conditions would seem to be fulfilled in this case. If there aren’t laws to prosecute people who issue such threats, there ought to be.

  • Zureiter

    With its rapidly ageing population and falling birth rate, Japan is facing a demographic collapse —- the like of which no major industrialized nation has ever seen before.
    Japan needs immigrants to offset the effects of this. It will provide more taxpaying citizens and reinvigorate a society that, otherwise, is going to become older and more stale.
    So Japan needs to get over its traditional xenophobia — especially against productive immigrants from elsewhere in Asia. It would show that Japan doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to signing treaties, but that it walks the walk — as well as bringing in all the benefits that a younger, innovative, more tolerant society provides.

  • Baruch_Obamawitz

    I think it’s reasonable to assume that these bigots do indeed represent the views of the majority of the Japanese public–just look at the bigoted idiots they continually elect. Ishihara, Hashimoto, Abe… Normally, even in Japan, people vote for those they agree with.

    • Cecilia Flynn

      Enacting laws is indeed a very slippery slope which will only chip away at the rights of the Japanese people resulting in them being denied the right to a voice at all which has already happened in the west.
      I have lived in Japan the Japanese are a most welcoming, tolerant people the laws already in place are quite sufficient to protect the populace.
      As for an aging population are you implying immigrants never get old, this argument was used in the west as they do age, only exacerbating the problem.

    • Obamawitzblah

      Pot calling the kettle black, you’re a bigot toward Japan.