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SOCIETY > Human Rights

Editorial: Apply hate speech ordinance so as not to restrict freedom of expression

  • December 14, 2019
  • , The Japan News , 7:21 p.m.
  • English Press

Speech and conduct aimed at fanning discrimination cannot be excused, but neither should expressive activities be unjustly constrained.

 

A human rights ordinance, banning hate speech in public places and setting criminal punishments for violators, has been enacted in the city of Kawasaki after being approved by the municipal assembly, with full enforcement set for next July. This is said to be the nation’s first such ordinance to include punitive provisions.

 

The ordinance bans such acts as using a loudspeaker to utter discriminatory words against people from specific countries and regions. If the mayor’s recommendation or order to stop such behavior is not obeyed, the names of violating individuals or groups will be made public and criminal complaints will be filed against the violators. Fines of up to ¥500,000 will be imposed on violators if they are found guilty in court decisions.

 

An anti-hate-speech law, with the goal of eliminating discrimination at the national level, was put into effect in 2016. As a result, the number of discriminatory street demonstrations has decreased, but cases of hate speech have yet to be eradicated. In Kawasaki, where many foreigners reside, fierce hate speech demonstrations have been held repeatedly.

 

The city has worked out a guideline that it can restrict in advance the use of municipal facilities in cases when such a demonstration is feared to be held. It likely aims to have the effect of restraining hate speech by establishing the ordinance with punitive provisions in addition to compiling the guideline.

 

The national anti-hate-speech law does not incorporate penal regulations, out of consideration for the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution. This is because it is difficult to draw a line between legality and illegality, thus producing the possibility of the law being applied arbitrarily.

 

The Kawasaki ordinance provides a mechanism for the mayor to hear opinions of a screening panel of academic experts before the municipal government issues recommendations or orders to stop hate speech. Penalties would not be imposed without a court trial. This indicates that legal procedures were considered carefully and prudently.

 

However, members of the panel are to be commissioned by the mayor. There is concern about whether the selection of members will be impartial or whether it will be affected by the mayor’s political standpoint.

 

As long as a public authority decides whether there are problems in terms of expression, it is necessary to present in an easily understandable way which concrete examples of speech and conduct are subject to punishment. It is indispensable to make the panel’s screening process transparent.

 

Efforts must be made to ensure appropriate application of the ordinance in a way that does not curb even proper expressive activities.

 

It is also necessary to deal with online posts that are frequently anonymous.

 

In the city of Osaka, where an ordinance to restrain hate speech took effect in 2016, more than half of matters subject to screening were said to be videos and messages posted online. As for videos determined to represent acts of hate, the city has ordered internet service providers to delete them.

 

It is imperative to deepen discussions about how to eliminate expressions filled with malice and prejudice from the realm of cyberspace.

 

— This article appeared in the print version of The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 14, 2019.

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