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1 month after anti-hate speech law adopted, marches down, language softened

A protest banner reading "sever Japan and South Korean relations" and a counter "anti-racism" protest's banner written in English are seen in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, on June 19, 2016. (Mainichi)

One month after a new anti-hate speech law was put into effect, and following the introduction of the nation's first local anti-hate speech ordinance in the city of Osaka on July 1, the Mainichi Shimbun investigated how much effect these new measures have had in putting an end to hate-speech protests.

A citizen's group that accuses the Osaka ordinance of "discriminating against Japanese" and was planning a demonstration in front of the Osaka Municipal Office on July 12 listed the following among its notices for its demonstrators: "Please don't use placards with extreme content," and "No flags with swastikas or other things that will invite misunderstanding."

The demonstration was canceled due to rain, so what exactly was meant by "extreme content" is unknown, but it seems likely the group was trying to limit language that insults and rejects ethnic Koreans in Japan.

Mun Gong Hwi, an ethnic Korean, is head of the secretariat of "Hate Speech o Yurusanai! Osaka no Kai" (don't allow hate speech! Osaka group), which has applied based on the Osaka ordinance for recognition as a target of hate speech. Mun says, "In a street demonstration by a hate group in April, there was a moment when one participant started to use blatantly offensive language to attack Koreans, and the organizers hurried to stop them. The number of hate demonstrations has also fallen greatly since around the time of the ordinance taking effect."

Under the Osaka ordinance, if the mayor authorizes it, individuals or groups that have conducted hateful behavior toward others can have their names publicized, but so far this aspect of the ordinance has not been used. Mun adds, "The drop in (hate) demonstrations may just be because they are watching to see how things develop."

In Ginza, Tokyo, where since around last year there has been a marked increase in hate demonstrations, there have also been changes since the new legal measures. During a demonstration on June 19, instead of banners insulting Koreans, protesters carried banners calling for severing relations between Japan and South Korea, apparently having chosen to avoid ethnically-charged language and instead place emphasis on their political argument.

Masayuki Watanabe, associate professor at Daito Bunka University, who has been urging Ginza commerce and industry associations and the ward assembly to take action against hate speech, says, "The thinking of those putting out hate speech and the (essential) content of what they say may not change, but at least on the surface we can see the effects of the countermeasures. It seems (for example) that the organizers are not allowing demonstrators who often say extremist things to have bullhorns."

Kim Bang Ja holds up her composition that she wrote in literacy class. (Mainichi)

The response of police and the government administrations to hate marches has also changed. On June 5, just after the execution of the new law, the Kawasaki Municipal Government refused to give permission for a park to be used for a protest targeting the social welfare corporation "Seikyu-sha," which gives support to the many ethnic Koreans living in the city's Sakuramoto district. Additionally, the Kawasaki branch of the Yokohama District Court called the hate speech demonstrations "an illegal violation of human rights" and prohibited them from being held near the Seikyu-sha building.

Kanagawa Prefectural Police gave permission for the demonstration to be held in a different street location, but protesters staged a sit-in. The police urged the organizers to call off the demonstration for safety reasons, and it was canceled.

Tomohito Miura, the head of Seikyu-sha's secretariat, says, "Before the anti-hate speech law was created, the police wouldn't even tell us the routes planned for the demonstrations, and it was we who were treated like an illegal group. The police wouldn't protect us from hate demonstrations in our neighborhoods, and government services would say, 'There is only so much we can do under the current law.' We were on the receiving end of these three layers of damage." He was complimentary, however, toward the efforts of government organs, the judiciary, police and citizens since the passage of the law, saying, "It is a definite step forward that we were able to stop the demonstration."

While vulgar insults from these hate marches may be disappearing from the streets, the question remains whether the new law will be effective in combatting discrimination. In deference to the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech, the law does not forbid anything or include any punishments, but it makes it the national government's responsibility to set up help for victims of hate speech and to work to educate and provide awareness to the public to stop the speech from occurring. It also calls on municipal governments to work toward these goals. Preventing hate marches through the law thus depends not on cracking down on such actions, but on government policies that put a stop to discrimination.

The Ministry of Justice's Human Rights Bureau dispatched employees not only for the planned Kawasaki demonstration, but also for ones in the cities of Fukuoka and Osaka after the new law went into effect. Using tools such as videos and posters, they are trying to educate people about hate speech. However, the bureau emphasizes, "The law does not involve applying any kind of legal effect when there is a case of hate speech."

Following the implementation of the new law, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology instructed prefectural boards of education to take "appropriate responses." When asked what kind of education is an appropriate response to the law, the ministry's Social Education Division said, "Efforts that are adapted to the circumstances, such as whether there are many foreigners in an area, are needed. However, we mustn't stir up settled problems through this education." While there is some truth to what the division says, it does seem they are still trying to find their footing on how to proceed.

Will other parts of Japan do the same as the Osaka Municipal Government and establish local ordinances against hate speech? When asked about specific future policies on hate speech, the human rights and gender-equality section of the Kawasaki Municipal Government was tight-lipped, saying its policy was being carried out "at the discretion of the mayor." When pressed, a representative said, "Regarding things like refusing permission to allow use of the park (for the hate demonstration), I hear there is a movement to sue the municipal government for discriminating against Japanese people. We don't want to reveal our plans." Apparently, like the demonstrators, the government side is watching to see what the other does.

If another hate demonstration is planned in Kawasaki, will the citizens have no choice but to stage a sit-in and wait for police intervention? Miura says, "The fact that police gave permission for the June demonstration to be held in the street shows the current limits (of the law). We can't ask the police and government services to do everything. Next time, we will have to stop the demonstration in a different way. The work to overcome the limits of the law has just begun."

Not limited to just fighting against hate speech, Miura says Seikyu-sha will work with the municipal government to advance effective ordinances and guidelines that promote the coexistence of different cultures.

Regarding the city of Osaka, which has its own anti-hate ordinance, Mun says, "We don't yet know the extent of the effects of the anti-hate law or the ordinance. This is why we want to use the ordinance as much as possible and discover exactly what it can do and what it can't. Based on that, if necessary, we want to pursue revision of the ordinance to restrict hate speech itself." This position of wanting to observe what happens and then compensate for any deficiencies in the anti-hate legislation is one shared by Miura and the others at Seikyu-sha.

Always accompanying the hostile feelings of the hate demonstrations is the shadow of war. The targeting of the Sakuramoto area was triggered by a protest in September last year by elderly ethnic Koreans against the bills for the new security laws. Wearing traditional Korean garb, the protesters were based out of the "Fureai-kan," a facility managed by Seikyu-sha.

"The hate demonstration was clearly in revenge for that," says Miura.

One of the participants in the anti-security laws protest, first-generation Korean immigrant Kim Bang Ja, 85, is also a student of literacy at the Fureai-kan. She was about 5 when she came to Japan, following her father who worked in a coal mine in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Busy with looking after her younger sister and doing household chores, she says she was only able to go to school for about one year. When the anti-hate law was passed in May this year, she was sitting as an observer in the Diet. She wrote her impressions about the law in a composition in her literacy class.

After describing how she disliked being insulted with foul language, she wrote, "Let's stop doing that kind of thing and get along." Although overall the writing was inconsistent, for this part alone it was particularly large and strong.

"My hand was shaking because I was writing in ink," says Kim, adding, "If people talk they can come to an understanding. We have to get along with each other and not hate others."

Will these words get through to those who participate in the hate demonstrations? The first step to realizing the ideals put forward in the anti-hate law is surely having communication between the two sides.

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