Editorials

Penalizing hate speech

The Kyoto District Court on Oct. 7 ordered an anti-Korean group, Zaitokukai, and activists to pay some ¥12 million in damages to a pro-Pyongyang school in Kyoto for disrupting classes by staging demonstrations in which they used hate speech against Koreans. The court also banned the street demonstrations within a 200-meter radius of the school.

This ruling, long overdue, is important because it has made it clear that speech that fans discrimination and hatred against a specific ethnic group is illegal. Zaitokukai has repeatedly conducted street demonstrations laced with hate speech in Tokyo’s Shin Okubo district and Osaka’s Tsuruhashi. It must take the ruling seriously and halt such activities.

The lawsuit was filed by Kyoto Chosen Daiichi Elementary School in Minami Ward, Kyoto. It requested ¥30 million in damages from Zaitokukai and associated activists, and a ban on their demonstrations. Discriminatory phrases were uttered through loudspeakers on three occasions when Zaitokukai activists demonstrated near the school from December 2009 to March 2010. The group claimed that its activities were a legitimate protest against the school’s setting up a speech platform for a morning assembly in a park without first getting permission from the Kyoto city government, adding that its protests should fall under the purview of freedom of speech as guaranteed by the Constitution. (The school principal was fined ¥100,000 in a separate case.)

The Kyoto District Court based its ruling on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Japan has ratified. The ruling stated that Zaitokukai and activists’ demonstrations near the pro-Pyongyang school and the group’s streaming of the demonstrations over the Internet constituted racial discrimination as prohibited by the treaty and as such are illegal. Without using the phrase “hate speech,” the court ruling said that the demonstrations terrorized students, made teaching in classes difficult, damaged the environment for quiet education activities, and harmed the honor of the school and its teachers and students.

Zaitokukai’s claim that its activities are legitimate is unreasonable given the phrases it used near the Korean school — “Throw Korean schools out of Japan,” “Children of spies,” “Cockroaches, maggots, go back to the Korean Peninsula,” “Any Korean who is discriminated against by Japan and feels mortified, go back to the Korean Peninsula,” etc. There is a possibility that the online streaming of the demonstrations helped to nurture anti-Korean feelings among some Japanese citizens.

It is noteworthy that the ruling said it was necessary to set the compensation amount at a level that serves to protect and provide relief to people who were targeted by the demonstrations. Thus it ordered payment of some ¥12.26 million in compensation.

The ruling will prompt public discussion on whether a law prohibiting hate speech should be enacted. While such a law might make it easier to crack down on hate speech, there is a chance that the authorities could abuse it by using it as a license to silence activities with which they disagree. The best outcome would be for ordinary citizens to reject hate speech and build up a social movement against it.