A bill intended to put a stop to hate speech campaigns directed at people of particular races or ethnicities looks set to be deliberated by the Diet during the current session.
Hate speech, with its heavy doses of terms like "Kill them!" and "Get out of Japan," is abusive and libelous, and can stir up racist sentiments. It is, in short, an offense against basic human rights, and it cannot be tolerated. Nevertheless, there is presently nothing stopping the groups that promote this violent rhetoric from spreading their toxic message.
There were 1,152 confirmed cases of hate speech across the country during the 3 1/2 years ending in September 2015, according to the recently released results of the Justice Ministry's first-ever investigation into the problem in Japan. That is nearly one incident a day, and it is an absolute embarrassment for a democratic nation such as ours.
The opposition-sponsored anti-racism bill was followed by one with the backing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito. The ruling and opposition parties should put their heads together to get a law passed halting hate speech as soon as possible.
Hate speech marches through areas of Tokyo and Osaka that are home to many Korean residents of Japan have been intensifying in recent years, and have been spreading all over the country. Under current law, authorities have only been able to restrict hate speech actions when the perpetrators have committed an illegal act. The Justice Ministry officially labeled hate speech a human rights violation only in December of last year, and warned a former hate group leader to stop the organization's activities. Although this is certainly a positive step, a warning has no legal power.
Behind the relatively tame official response to such racist polemics is the fact that hate speech is not in itself illegal. The government, meanwhile, has approached the problem by carefully balancing the principle of freedom of expression with direct regulation.
In 2014, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination advised the Japanese government to take resolute action against hate speech, and to enact anti-hate speech legislation.
There are also strong domestic calls for a government response to hate speech. In January of this year, the city of Osaka enacted the country's first anti-hate speech ordinance. In addition, more than 300 local government assemblies across Japan have adopted a written statement calling on the central government to take appropriate legal action against hate speech, while staying within the Constitutional right to freedom of expression. In these acts, we can see a definite fear that Japan will lose the trust of the international community if hate groups continue to peddle their poisonous polemics unhindered.
Hate speech doesn't just damage the dignity of the individual. It can also create a deep well of dread in those subjected to it, including children. Freedom of expression is a very important right -- but hate speech is an obvious abuse of that right.
The LDP-Komeito bill defines hate speech as unjust discrimination. The bill differs greatly from the opposition's version, which seeks to regulate a wider range of discriminatory acts and calls for the outright ban on hate speech. Neither bill, however, lists a punishment for hate speech violations.
To the contrary, we believe that Japan needs a law that clearly defines hate speech, preventing broad interpretations that could be warped into threats to the freedom of expression. The law should also include provisions that will have some practical effect, such as giving authorities the power to deny hate groups the use of public facilities and roads for demonstrations.
It's time for a show of political strength.