The Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito earlier this month submitted a bill to the Diet aimed at curbing hate speech. Last year, the then-Democratic Party of Japan and the Social Democratic Party proposed similar legislation. Although the two bills contain differences, the goal of cracking down on hate speech should be something the ruling and opposition forces can agree on. The two blocs should look for common ground and take the first legal step toward eradication of hate speech.
In 2014, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged the Japanese government to regulate hate speech by law in view of a rise in racist demonstrations, especially in Tokyo’s Shin Okubo and Osaka’s Tsuruhashi areas, mainly targeting Korean residents. A similar recommendation had been made by the U.N. Human Rights Committee.
The former committee pointed out that hate speech and other behavior inciting racist violence and hatred during rallies and in the media, including the Internet, are “not always properly investigated and prosecuted” by Japanese authorities. It specifically urged Japan to address the problem of hate speech in street demonstrations, investigate and prosecute individuals and organizations responsible for such acts, and punish public officials and politicians who disseminate hate speech.
Local assemblies across Japan have since called on the national government to take legislative and other measures to fight hate speech. But the Diet has been slow to act, with opponents of regulating hate speech claiming that such legislative steps could interfere with freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution and that activities covered by the opposition-proposed bill were vague and too broadly defined.
In this situation, the police had to cope with problematic street propaganda activities by relying on existing laws. In 2010, they arrested four leaders of Zaitokukai, an anti-Korean residents group, on suspicion of disturbing classes at a Korean school in Kyoto the previous year by using loudspeakers to shout such phrases as “Spies of North Korea!” and “Drive them out of Japan!” The four were later convicted of obstruction of business by force. In a civil lawsuit over the incident, the Supreme Court in 2014 ordered Zaitokukai to pay ¥12 million in compensation to the school.
The police were able to take action against the group because its activities specifically targeted the Korean school and verbally attacked it with discriminatory phrases, and because concrete damage — obstruction of classes — had been inflicted. But if someone verbally attacks Korean residents in general with the same abusive phrases that the Zaitokukai leaders used, the authorities have no laws to control them. The Justice Ministry last month confirmed that groups which use hate speech organized 1,152 rallies and street propaganda activities from April 2012 to September 2015.
In the absence of a national law, the Osaka Municipal Government established a bylaw in January to cope with hate speech, the first of its kind in the country. It defines hate speech as abuse and slander aimed at excluding members of a particular race or ethnicity from society. A committee made up of experts will investigate hate speech activities and make public the names of organizations engaged in such activities. The bylaw does not provide for punishment because it is legally difficult to clearly distinguish between tolerable expressions and hate speech.
The bill proposed by the ruling bloc says “discriminatory speech and behavior” aimed at excluding from local communities people from other countries or regions and their descendants living lawfully in Japan are “not worthy of Japan’s position in the international community” and “should not be condoned.” It says that publicly threatening the lives, freedom, honor and property of such people constitutes hate speech and behavior.
The opposition bill appears to widen the concept of activities to be prohibited. It would prohibit anyone from carrying out discriminatory treatment of particular people and also from engaging in speech and behavior, such as insulting and harassing, against anyone based on their racial, ethnic or ancestral backgrounds or skin color. It would also prohibit anyone from engaging in speech and behavior designed to cause extreme uneasiness or annoyance to or inducing and promoting discriminatory treatment of people who share common attributes concerning their racial, ethnic or ancestral backgrounds or their skin color. It also calls on local governments to help Internet providers with their efforts to curb discriminatory statements in cyberspace and on the national government to probe racial and ethnic discrimination in this country.
Neither the ruling coalition and opposition bills, however, would impose punishment on people or organizations that engage in hate speech and behavior.
Since the ultimate purpose of the two bills will be the same, the ruling and opposition parties should combine them into a common proposal. Lawmakers should hold careful discussions on how to enact an effective step to curb hate speech while ensuring against possible abuse by law enforcement authorities.
Both bills stress the importance of education and enlightenment activities to eliminate hate speech. Irrespective of what happens with the proposed legislation, the national and local governments should move forcefully on these two categories because they are the most powerful weapons against hate speech.
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