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NPA to crack down on hate speech demonstrators through existing legislation

Police officers subdue local residents attempting to protest against a group of hate speech demonstrators, in Kawasaki's Kawasaki Ward in this Jan. 31, 2016 file photo. (Mainichi)

The National Police Agency (NPA) is poised to crack down on people involved in hate demonstrations targeting specific races or ethnic groups by applying existing legislation, sources close to the agency said.

The NPA sent a notice to that effect to prefectural police departments across the country after a new anti-hate speech law enacted during the last regular Diet session came into force on June 3.

The new law defines hate speech as unjust and discriminatory words and deeds that instigate the public to exclude specific races or ethnic groups from regional communities, such as by threatening to harm such people, with the aim of fomenting racist attitudes. The legislation obligates the national government to take steps to prevent acts of racial discrimination and local governments to make efforts to eliminate such discrimination.

However, the law does not have any punishment rules or clause prohibiting such activities for fear of infringing on freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Constitution. As such, police cannot build up a criminal case against others simply because they are involved in hate speech demonstrations.

In the notice, the NPA explained the purpose of the new law and instructed police departments to crack down on those confirmed to be involved in illegal activities while participating in hate demonstrations by applying existing laws.

The sources said the NPA is considering applying defamation or contempt charges to those participating in such demonstrations or accusing them of violating the Road Traffic Act, though the agency does not specify the names of charges it envisages police forces pressing against those involved.

"We'll demonstrate our strict stance toward hate demonstrations by dealing with those involved in such activities more strictly than ever," said a senior NPA official.

Police have come under fire for being on alert more against those who protest hate demonstrations than against those involved in such demonstrations. In response to such criticism, the NPA is set to instruct prefectural police forces to flexibly respond to hate demonstrations and protesters.

The NPA is cautious, however, about rejecting applications for permission to stage hate speech demonstrations.

Public safety ordinances in many prefectures stipulate that local bodies or police are supposed to grant permission for demonstrations in response to applications by organizers unless such activities threaten to public peace and security.

A Supreme Court ruling in 1960 regarding a Tokyo metropolitan ordinance on public security pointed out that a clause requiring demonstration organizers to seek permission from the metropolitan government is effectively the same as a notification requirement. The top court thus suggested that Tokyo police should grant permission for demonstrations in principle, regardless of their content.

"We don't decide whether to grant permission depending on the content of the demonstrations. If we were to do so, it could amount to censorship," said a high-ranking official of the NPA.

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