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Editorial: Utilize new law to eradicate hate speech

The Diet on May 24 enacted a law against hate speech with the passage of a bill during a House of Representatives plenary session. The move should be used as a starting point in building a society free of this discriminatory language, which has been used to target specific races and ethnic groups.

    Forbidding hate speech, which damages the human rights and dignity of individuals, is a natural move. Last year the opposition parties submitted a bill to the Diet on abolishing racial discrimination. During the current Diet session, the ruling parties presented an alternative bill, and deliberations proceeded at a swift pace in line with the ruling parties' proposal.

    The new law is one of ideology, promoting an end to unjustified and discriminatory language and behavior, and requires the central and local governments to implement necessary measures. But since it provides no punishments, some have suggested the law will not be enough to stamp out hate speech. Even so, we want to laud it as a step toward ending violations of human rights.

    In Japan, the most common targets of hate speech are Korean residents, who include people living in the country due to historical factors, and criticism against them is unwarranted. Still, they have been persistently targeted by hate speech, and say they have been left fearful. We hope that police and local bodies will take advantage of this law to adopt a resolute response and not permit street demonstrations marked by discriminatory language and actions.

    Differences of opinion between the ruling and opposition parties over the legislation to counter hate speech basically boiled down to two points. First was the definition of hate speech. Initially, the ruling parties proposed that it be defined as speech threatening to harm a person's life, body, freedom, dignity or possessions.

    However, a trait of hate speech is that it is not restricted to violent language calling on people to "die" or to "kill" others, but also includes insulting language, such as calling people "cockroaches." The ruling parties accepted a claim from the opposition that such disparagement would not be included under their proposed definition, so "grossly insulting" action was added.

    The second point of difference was the target of hate speech. Under the original ruling party proposal, it was "people from countries outside of Japan," which limited the targets to foreigners in Japan and their families. The opposition parties pointed out that this would allow discrimination against the Ainu people, refugee seekers and people residing illegally in Japan, and sought an amendment, but the ruling coalition didn't comply.

    Eventually a compromise was reached with the passing of an additional resolution stating that it was wrong to understand the legislation as meaning that discriminatory language and behavior other than "unwarranted discrimination against people from countries outside Japan" was acceptable.

    But no matter what position residents of Japan are in, they must not be exposed to discriminatory language and behavior. Standing on that principle, the law should have clearly stated this.

    The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has called for the Japanese government to establish legislation against hate speech. In light of such moves, local assemblies moved in succession to request laws and regulations.

    It is important for each citizen to forbid hate speech. It is also important to enlighten young people through education at school. While giving heed to freedom of expression, which is an important right of the people, we hope to see the eradication of hate speech.

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