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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Taking a Stand on Hate Speech

May 28, 2015

Newsroom Tokyo examines how Japan is dealing with hate speech and the debate about freedom of expression. We advise readers and viewers that this story contains some disturbing comments and images. NHK does not endorse the views expressed by the demonstrators but included their content to provide context.

Hate speech rallies in Japan typically target the nation’s ethnic minorities. Demonstrators who verbally abuse people based on their ethnicity have become more vocal in recent years. People of Korean descent are the primary target.

Rally participants chant slogans like “Kill the Koreans! Death to Koreans!”, “Koreans, get out!”, and “Koreans who hate our country and its people must leave Japan immediately!".

United Nations officials say this kind of hate speech constitutes racial discrimination and they have urged the Japanese government to make it illegal. But Japan’s leaders have been hesitant to impose restrictions. They say that could violate freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in the Constitution.

Last week, some lawmakers called on the government to take meaningful measures by submitting a bill that would curtail hate speech.

While the central government grapples with the problem, the city of Osaka is taking its own action.

Osaka’s Ikuno district is home to a Korean community with deep roots. Many of the residents’ ancestors moved to Japan or were brought there when the Korean peninsula was a Japanese colony. Japanese and ethnic Koreans have lived side by side in the neighborhood for decades.

The area’s diversity has made it a target for hate speech rallies. A local nonprofit organization, the Multi-Ethnic Human Rights Education Center for Pro-existence, conducted a survey that revealed the demonstrations have had a deep effect on residents.

"I was shocked and horrified to come across discriminatory propaganda near a railway station. For example, they were chanting ‘All Korean food shops leave now,” wrote one respondent.

"I am scared about living in Japan. I just wonder where we should go,” a different person noted. “Other Japanese people may feel the same way as those who spout hate speech,” was another response.

While the questionnaire shed some light on what residents are going through - and how they fear for their safety - one woman described her experience directly to Newsroom Tokyo.

The 37-year-old third-generation ethnic Korean was born and raised in Osaka and came across a large demonstration last year. “They said things like, ‘Koreans are just like a bunch of trash, they should die. Koreans shouldn’t speak Japanese, they’re disgusting’ and so forth. It was just horrible,” she recalled.

The woman says she is traumatized by the experience that left her unable to sleep: "I have flashbacks of what I saw at that time. It still scares me, and almost makes me want to run away. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it as long as I live. I’m sure I’ll never forget it."

An official at the NPO that conducted the residents’ survey says the findings are disturbing. “Clearly, hate speech has affected Koreans living in Japan. Many have been left feeling ostracized from Japanese society. Our survey shows that hate speech has divided Japanese and Koreans, who co-existed in our community for a long time,” observes the group’s deputy director-general Moon Kong-hwi.

Members of the Ikuno community held a seminar to discuss the issue, inviting academics and lawyers to weigh in with expert opinion. Participants debated whether legal measures were the best way to prevent hate speech.

"Every time there’s a demonstration, more and more damage is done. We need an effective bylaw with both preventive regulations and penalties,” said one participant. Others were concerned about restrictions on freedom of expression.

Osaka’s Mayor Toru Hashimoto decided to take action, appointing a panel to draft anti-hate speech rules. Members put together a bylaw that aims to reflect citizens’ views.

The draft bylaw does not include penalties but focuses instead on victims’ rights. The panel charged with devising the new rules says a system is necessary to define hate speech, identify individual cases and publicly reveal its perpetrators.

The proposal says online material could be subject to restrictions. If a posting was determined to contain offensive material, city officials would ask the website operator to take it down. In addition, victims would receive financial support should they decide to take a case to court.

"The city of Osaka has many Korean residents,” says panel chairperson Yuko Kawasaki . “It should do something about the problem instead of overlooking it. This proposal reflects our desire to do whatever we can.”

Officials say by getting tough on hate speech, Osaka will set an example for the rest of Japan.

Newsroom Tokyo presenters Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu spoke with NHK World correspondent Keizo Hirai for his analysis.

Shibuya: Keizo, first of all, what kind of people are involved in hate speech?

Hirai: Most of them are ultranationalists. I say they’re a minority. And now, more and more people are demonstrating against them.

Beppu: Why does the proposed ordinance fail to set specific penalties against hate speech?

Hirai: Experts and officials in Osaka decided to focus on helping victims. They say the ordinance may not work if it’s seen as restricting the constitutional right of freedom of expression. I asked lawyer Yasuko Morooka to evaluate the city’s effort and she said the most welcome part of the draft is that it calls for precise means to define, identify, and publicize who engages in hate speech.

Beppu: You mentioned freedom of speech a couple of minutes ago, and that’s something everyone in Japan wants to protect. It’s really a fine line. How do leaders in other nations that have taken a tough stance on hate speech deal with that issue?

Hirai: The expert lawyer I spoke to said some countries regard hate speech as an abuse of freedom of expression. She said people in Europe think hate speech silences minorities, excludes them from society, and could lead to violence. Morooka said the view overseas is that hate speech should be restricted by law in order to protect freedom of expression and democracy.

Shibuya: Keizo, what’s the next step for the city of Osaka’s anti-hate speech ordinance?

Hirai: The draft ordinance is now being discussed by the city council. Osaka officials say they will enact it soon after it’s adopted.