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Caution needed when imposing advance restrictions on hate speech

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TOKYO >>

It is important to eliminate the kind of malicious speech and behavior that can fuel discrimination, while giving consideration to freedom of expression.

The Kawasaki city government has laid down guidelines for restricting hate speech. The guidelines, which go into effect in March, are mainly aimed at regulating the use of public facilities.

Demonstrations staged to show enmity toward Koreans with permanent residence in Japan have repeatedly occurred in Kawasaki, home to a large non-Japanese community. The municipal government had good reason to demonstrate intolerance toward hate speech.

Last year, people who had repeatedly delivered hate speeches applied for permission to use a public park for a demonstration. The city government refused permission. In anticipation of similar cases, the government has created criteria and grounds for restrictions on the use of public facilities.

The problem is that the guidelines have gone too far by restricting use in anticipation of hate speech.

There is always the possibility of discriminatory speech and conduct, and it is obvious that such behavior would be harmful. But the guidelines are too extreme in stating that the use of a public facility should not be permitted or that permission can be revoked if it is believed this type of activity may take place.

The guidelines sharply differ from an ordinance enacted by the Osaka city government, which seeks to deter hate speech by publicizing the names of users and other information after they behave inappropriately in their facilities. Can a line be appropriately drawn prior to the actual conduct of a facility user?

In restricting the use of facilities, the guidelines require that opinions be sought from a third-party organization. Such a procedure is necessary, but there is no denying that experts chosen by the city government could make an arbitrary decision.

The Constitution guarantees all forms of expression, such as freedom of speech and assembly. The Local Government Law states that local governments must not reject requests for the use of public facilities unless there is just cause.

The Kawasaki city government needs to apply the guidelines in a careful manner, so legitimate activities will not be diminished. It is important for the local government to ensure transparency of a process in which, for instance, a decision has been made not to give permission.

The law on measures against hate speech that took effect in June last year includes no punitive clauses. Local governments are searching for ways to implement measures against hate speech.

The task common to them is, among others, how to respond to posts made and messages written on the internet. Although there is a decreasing trend in the number of demonstrations, the internet is flooded with spiteful and prejudiced expressions.

In Osaka, online messages and posts are said to account for 70 percent of those subject to examinations based on the ordinance. The city government is seeking to revise the ordinance to require website operators to provide pertinent information. Consideration needs to be given to seeking balance between the envisaged revision and the privacy of communications.

Germany is testing a system that orders Facebook and other services to delete illegal messages within 24 hours, and also fines offenders. Efforts should be made to create rules in Japan, too, after closely studying the merits and drawbacks of the German system.

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