Japan must act against hate

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Japan must act against hate

A Japanese local court for the first time recognized hate speech as a crime, ordering an association of ultra-nationalist civilian groups campaigning against non-Japanese residents to pay damages to a school run by pro-North Korea residents in Japan. The court said the rallies and language used by Zaitokukai and its supporters, held near the school, were illegal because they go against an international treaty that bans racial discrimination. It is the first such case in Japanese judiciary history and will likely rein in activities that menace Korean residents in Japan as people can now file suit against hate speech and activities by anti-Korean groups.

Zaitokukai has recently been more blunt and aggressive in its protests and propaganda against non-Japanese residents, thanks to a passive response by the conservative government. Japan is a member of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and yet does not punish racial discrimination. The latest court ruling was a civil case, not criminal. It remains unclear if the Japanese government and legislature could revise the law in order to create the legal grounds to punish racial discrimination. Tokyo rebuffed advice by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in May to draw up an anti-discrimination law, saying it does not have any bigotry that demands a law.

The Seoul government issued a statement that it strongly wished the ruling would help stop racial discrimination and other activities against ethnic Koreans. Anti-Korean rallies and sentiments have escalated amid the territorial disputes over the Dokdo islets. The Japanese media also highlighted the significance of the ruling. The Japanese Communist Party blamed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its remorseless view of history, which beautifies past military aggression, for encouraging hate speech and activities by ultra-right groups.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government was concerned about hate speech rallies disturbing store operations and school classes, but it declined to answer if it was mulling legislation to prohibit racial hate speech.

We hope Japanese society will turn more proactive in banning racial discrimination and hate speech. The government must also act to rein in the improper activities of Zaitokukai and other similar groups.

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