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Can restrictions on hate speech be used against anti-nukes?

August 31, 2014

Anti-nuclear protesters fear that restrictions on hate speech will also target them



As anti-nuclear demonstrators rallied in front of the Diet building on Aug. 30, many were troubled by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s discussions on restricting hate speech, fearing that a clampdown could also be used to silence their dissent.

“We do not interrupt traffic. We do not break through the cordon of police, either. Our demonstrations are different from just generating noise or making hate speeches. The government should hear the voices of the public,” said Tsuyoshi Mizuno, 67, a taxi driver from Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture.

Mizuno has participated in the weekly anti-nuclear demonstrations around the Diet building and the nearby prime minister's office since the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The protesters’ concerns apparently stemmed from the discussions held by a project team of the LDP on Aug. 28, which met for the first time.

The team was set up in response to a request from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to consider possible measures to restrict hate speech, prompted by recent demonstrations in Tokyo and Osaka and across the country where racial invectives were made against ethnic Koreans living in Japan.

In the discussion, Lower House lawmaker Katsuei Hirasawa, who serves as the project team leader, said, “By looking into actual conditions (of hate speeches), we want to consider whether the government can deal (with them) under the current laws or if new laws are needed.”

Participants discussed possible measures to restrict not only hate speech but also demonstrations around the Diet building.

On Aug. 30, the rally organizer estimated about 7,000 protesters opposing the restart of idled nuclear reactors gathered at the front gate of the Diet building.

In conjunction with voices from loudspeakers, they shouted, “We oppose the restart (of the nuclear reactors)! We also oppose the restrictions on demonstrations.”

Sachie Masuda, 44, a temporary worker from Tokyo’s Suginami Ward, said, “The LDP is trying to control the means for people to express their opinions.”

While holding her daughter's hand, an elementary school first-grader, she waved a small yellow flag that read, “Goodbye to nuclear power.”

“If we express our opinions and, as a result, are clamped down (by the government), we will not be able to say what we want to say,” she added.

Emiko Mizuno, 30, a company employee from Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, was holding up a sign that said, “Don’t crack down on freedom of expression.”

“I feel anger at and fear over the fact that, in the ruling party, there are people who cannot distinguish sound criticism against the government from the acts of racial discrimination,” she said.

Currently, rallies held around the Diet building with loudspeakers are restricted under the law to regulate noise in certain public places. Even if the acts are noisy, however, few demonstrators have been arrested so far.

In the Aug. 28 discussions, however, LDP policy chief Sanae Takaichi said, “When I am in the LDP headquarters building (located near the Diet building), there are times that I cannot concentrate on my work for many hours.”

Another participant asked, “Is it possible to restrict anti-nuclear demonstrations under the law (to restrict hate speech)?”

Ikuo Gonoi, associate professor of international political science at Takachiho University, who is well versed in hate speech issues, told The Asahi Shimbun that the anti-nuclear protesters are controlling themselves so that their rallies do not turn into riots.

"The participants are not making remarks or taking acts that are discriminatory against certain races or are threatening certain people’s right to exist," Gonoi said. "They are completely different from those who are making hate speeches."

Gonoi, who has written a book titled “Demo towa nanika?” (What are demonstrations?), added, “If the government restricts protests, which are based on the freedom of expression, by using restrictions on hate speech, it could endanger democracy. It will be an extremely dangerous move.”

(Katsuhei Kawamura and Hiroshi Kai contributed to this article.)

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