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.

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