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Court upholds exclusion of pro-Pyongyang school from tuition benefits

Lawyers hold up a sign saying "unjust ruling" in front of the Tokyo District Court on September 13, 2017, after a court denied compensation to former students of Tokyo Korean Junior and Senior High School. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A Tokyo court upheld on Wednesday the government's exclusion of a pro-Pyongyang school in Tokyo from a tuition waiver program that covers most high schools in the country.

    The Tokyo District Court's ruling, which rejected a suit filed by 62 graduates of the Korean high school, follows a similar ruling from a Hiroshima court in mid-July. In late July, a court in Osaka ruled in favor of a local Korean school.

    In its ruling, the Tokyo court said the government's decision -- made on the grounds that these schools are under the influence of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, known as Chongryon -- was not unreasonable.

    The decision, made by the education minister, "did not overstep the scope of discretion" allowed to the minister, Presiding Judge Kazuhiko Tanaka said.

    In the suit, the plaintiffs collectively demanded 6.2 million yen ($56,300) from the government, claiming that its treatment of the Korean schools in connection with the program was illegal.

    The government argued in court that excluding Korean schools from the program is justified because subsidies provided through the program could be diverted from its intended purpose, citing the schools' close ties to North Korea and Chongryon as suggested in news reports and intelligence analyses.

    The plaintiffs are expected to appeal Wednesday's ruling. Similar suits are pending at the Nagoya District Court and the Kokura branch of the Fukuoka District Court.

    The tuition waiver program was launched in April 2010 as one of the key policies of the then Democratic Party of Japan-led government.

    Under the program at the time, public school students were exempted from tuition fees, while private school students received financial assistance. However, whether it would cover Korean schools was not determined.

    An education ministry panel subsequently began assessing Korean schools' eligibility for the program, but the process was suspended after North Korea fired rounds of artillery on a South Korean islet in November 2010.

    The government finally decided in February 2013 to exclude pro-Pyongyang schools from the program, citing the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea and other issues concerning the country. By then the government was led by the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito.

    As of May, 1,262 students were attending 11 pro-Pyongyang Korean high schools in Japan, according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology. The students include those with Japanese or South Korean nationality. The schools, which are classified as "miscellaneous schools" under Japanese law, provide education in Korean.

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