The former chairman of an anti-foreigner organization ran in the Tokyo gubernatorial election last month and publicly demanded in his campaign speeches that South Korean residents in Japan move out of the country. The incident brought to light the difficulties the nation faces when hate speech is used under the guise of campaign activities, which are protected by the public office election law.
On July 14 when the Tokyo gubernatorial election was announced, a candidate was standing on top of an election van and shouting into a microphone to passersby in front of JR Sugamo station.
“If you are a Korean resident of Japan who is unable to survive another day here without receiving welfare benefits, you should just go ahead and die. What I mean is you can go ahead and leave Japan.”
The candidate is 44-year old Makoto Sakurai, the former president of a group known as Zaitokukai (Citizens against Special Privileges for Zainichi Koreans). The group has been actively disseminating anti-foreigner messages and has been a defendant in lawsuits involving human right violations. Sakurai pledged such measures as abolishing welfare benefits for Korean residents in Japan and halting the construction of a Korean school in Tokyo. He made a speech in front of the South Korean Embassy as well, making such statements as “Go home to South Korea” and “Get out of Japan immediately.”
Supporters of Sakurai and the group spread his campaign updates on social media and internet video sites, resulting in him receiving 110,000 votes and placing fifth among the 21 candidates in the election.
The public election law stipulates that during policy speeches on TV, candidates must refrain from using unseemly words and actions that would harm the honor and dignity of others. However regarding roadside speeches, the law does not stipulate restrictions on the contents of speeches. In fact, the law imposes penalties on activities that obstruct campaign gatherings and speeches.
A member of a group that protested against Sakurai’s campaign laments: “Some might say our moves to stop discriminatory speech constitute ‘obstruction of election campaigns.’”
The public election law guarantees the freedom to campaign. A lawyer who is well-versed in issues surrounding hate speech says, “Under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, hate speech should never go unpunished. The Ministry of Justice has a responsibility to take measures against human rights violations if such claims are proven to be true. Measures need to be taken to prevent people from using election campaigns as a guise for hate speech.” (Abridged)