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Kawasaki aims to submit anti-hate speech decree with penal clause as national law futile

Citizens protest against hate speech under the name of election campaigning, in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on March 29, 2019. (Mainichi/Yoshiya Goto)

KAWASAKI -- The municipal government here is moving ahead with procedures to introduce an ordinance against hate speech targeting ethnic minorities, complete with a punitive clause to better combat such human rights violations in this city hosting many Korean residents.

People stage a protest against a speech made by the camp of Goichi Sakuma, a candidate in the Kawasaki Municipal Assembly election, in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on March 29, 2019. (Mainichi/Yoshiya Goto)

The move comes as Japan's anti-hate speech law, which came into effect in 2016, is said to have proved hardly effective as it includes no penalty clauses.

In Kawasaki, a Kanagawa Prefecture city south of Tokyo, a candidate in this spring's unified local elections was decried as using hate speech under the pretext of election campaigning. Under the Public Offices Election Act, it is prohibited to obstruct election campaigns, and critics slammed the candidate as taking advantage of the legal ban.

"It can be said that the candidate abused the election, but it is difficult to put the brakes on such a move under current laws or local ordinances," said an expert.

In June, the Kawasaki Municipal Government released a draft ordinance that prohibits hate speech against people from particular countries or regions as well as their offspring, with a fine of up to 500,000 yen for those who violated the ordinance three times. The city is poised to submit the ordinance bill to the municipal assembly in December.

Goichi Sakuma, center, delivers a campaign speech as a candidate in the Kawasaki Municipal Assembly election, in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on March 31, 2019. (Mainichi/Yoshiya Goto)

In the Kawasaki Municipal Assembly election on April 7, Goichi Sakuma, a 53-year-old candidate, advocated "resolving the issue of illegal occupation" in part of the Ikegamicho district of the city's Kawasaki Ward, home to many ethnic Korean residents. Although Sakuma lost in the election, he still garnered 959 votes.

During his campaign, Sakuma made anti-Korean speeches in an indirect manner by quoting words of other conservative activists. When citizens lodged a protest against his speech, he refuted by saying their protest constituted an obstruction of election campaigning.

Shortly before the campaign period officially kicked off, Sakuma retweeted a link to an online video with subtitles stating "Move out, Koreans illegally living in Ikegamicho" as an advance notice of his first campaign speech. Sakuma explained that the phrase was a quote from a blog post by Hiroyuki Seto, supreme adviser to the political group "Japan First Party," who served as a senior official for Sakuma's campaign office.

On the first day of the campaign period, Sakuma delivered a speech in front of a residential area of Ikegamicho while raising a banner reading "Completely resolve unlawful occupation." When interviewed by the Mainichi Shimbun, Sakuma justified Seto's claim by saying, "It can be allowed from the viewpoint of sovereignty of the people."

Prior to World War II, part of what is now Ikegamicho was home to laborers hailing from the Korean Peninsula after they apparently started to inhabit land lots purchased by Nippon Kokan, the predecessor to JFE Steel Corp. About 60% of the land lots are still owned by JFE. While residents there have not signed lease contracts with JFE, the company has never demanded they vacate the lots.

Sakuma said, "Residents in Ikegamicho may be shocked, but I don't think my addresses comprise hate speech."

After the election, Seto told the Mainichi, "I'd thought Sakuma wouldn't get elected. His candidacy was aimed at highlighting his own cause."

An official with JFE commented, "There are no lease contracts, but we have never said residents are living there illegally. It is not appropriate to demand their sweeping eviction without respecting their actual living conditions."

A representative of the city's election administration commission said, "It's not that the illegality of hate speech can be ruled out just because it was part of an election campaign," but added, "We withhold from comments on individual actions from the viewpoint of taking a fair and impartial position."

Lawyer Yasuko Morooka, who has addressed hate speech issues, commented, "Sakuma's campaigns can only be construed as anti-Korean, considering his tweet preannouncing his first campaign speech as well as the banner. His actions can be said to constitute hate speech that abused the election."

Morooka pointed out that the national anti-hate speech law has been ineffective in staving off such derogatory acts and said, "It is necessary to urgently introduce a law banning racial discrimination with a penalty clause and a law for providing relief to victims, on top of a basic law for eradicating racial discrimination."

(Japanese original by Yoshiya Goto, Photo Group)

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