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Effect of new anti-hate speech law spreads to executive, judicial branches

Bulletin boards at the Ministry of Justice in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district are filled with 49 posters calling against hate speech campaigns, in this picture taken on June 3, 2016. The anti-hate speech law went into force that day. (Mainichi)

A new law aimed at eliminating hate speech campaigns, which instigate rejection of specific racial or ethnic groups from local communities, came into force on June 3. While the legislation has proven effective in some parts of the country, such as in Kawasaki where the court handed down a provisional injunction banning a hate speech rally in an area home to many Korean residents, there remain challenges that need to be addressed.

On June 5, a hate speech demonstration in Kawasaki was called off after participants were surrounded by hundreds of citizens protesting against the rally and police urged them to discontinue the event. The organizers terminated the rally after demonstrators paraded only about 10 meters down the road, in what was going to be the country's first such demonstration since the anti-hate speech law came into effect.

The incident came three days after the Kawasaki branch of the Yokohama District Court issued a provisional injunction prohibiting a hate speech demonstration within a 500-meter radius of the office of a social welfare organization supporting Korean residents in the city. The decision forced organizers of the June 5 rally to change their plans, including the location for the event.

In October 2013, the Kyoto District Court handed down a ruling banning the Zaitokukai (Citizens against the special privileges of Korean residents in Japan) from staging hate speech demonstrations near the then Kyoto No. 1 Korean Elementary School and ordered the group to pay compensation. The ruling accused those demonstrations of "racial discrimination" in light of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The ruling was later finalized by the Supreme Court.

The June 2 provisional injunction issued by the Yokohama District Court's Kawasaki branch also quoted the same international treaty, as well as the anti-hate speech law that had just been enacted in May. The ruling called hate speech rallies "illegal actions that infringe upon the personal rights for leading a peaceful life" and pointed out that grossly illegal hate speech campaigns, such as repeating loud chants with bullhorns, lie "outside the bounds of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution."

"The ruling conveys the court's indignation over hate speech," said a senior official at the Ministry of Justice about the provisional injunction going as far as to ban a planned hate speech demonstration in advance. The ministry was behind the submission of the anti-hate speech bill to the Diet.

Signs of change are also emerging in police responses over the issue. In step with the anti-hate speech law coming into effect, the National Police Agency issued a notice to prefectural police departments across the country asking them to strictly respond to hate speech demonstrations by making full use of existing legislation such as that against defamation and contempt.

Because the anti-hate speech legislation does not have any punitive provision or clause prohibiting such activities, it is impossible to crack down on hate speech with the law alone. It is said the use of roads for any demonstration must be granted in principle. Nonetheless, hundreds of riot police and other officers from Kanagawa Prefectural Police were mobilized at the site of the June 5 rally to prepare for any emergencies.

Yasuko Morooka, a lawyer who authored a book titled "Hate Speech towa nanika" (What is hate speech?), hails the anti-hate speech legislation, saying, "The law provides support for courts, local bodies and police in making a decision on their strict responses to hate speech."

The new law, however, has its own limits. In order to provide relief to victims who suffered damage from hate speech, they still need to prove in detail violations of their personal rights and defamation, just as they needed to before the law came into effect. The June 2 provisional injunction banning a hate speech rally became viable as there existed crystal-clear damage in Kawasaki, where the organizers of the planned rally had repeatedly staged similar demonstrations on about a dozen occasions.

A senior Justice Ministry official said, "The court decision could be different if the expression used in the announcement for a hate speech demonstration was different. I'm not sure if the courts would issue a similar provisional injunction in other cases."

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