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Free speech a confusing subject in Japan

A Japan court has ruled that "hate speech" does not fall under the constitutional right of citizens to free speech, sparking yet another debate between what forms of expression are afforded to individuals.

What is considered racist and what is considered speaking one's mind have long been at the heart of many civil liberties debates. In the United States, organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the Westboro Baptist Church have come under a lot of scrutiny for their part in promoting discriminating material. However, in Japan a similar discussion has ensued regarding one group's rallies.

Zaitokukai become more active
Recently in the Asian island country, gatherings by the Zaitokukai, which have been quite vocal about their racist views towards ethnic Koreans in the country, have been growing more frequent. According to the Washington Post, the group is composed of more than 10,000 members.

One of the most frowned upon rallies was outside of a Korean elementary school in the city of Kyoto, in which the group shouted and made banners that scared many of the young children who attended the school. There were three rallies held between December 2009 and March 2010, which reportedly caused stomach pains for some of the students.

Court ruling
The news source reports that the people involved at the demonstrations have been ordered to pay the school 12 million yen for disturbing the classes and scaring the children. The reaction to the ruling has been both praised and condemned within the country.

The ruling marks the first time that "explicit insults" at such rallies have been considered racial discrimination, falling under the realm of hate speech, the Washington Post explains. Race relations with Koreans, who make up the country's largest minority group, have been strained in Japan dating back to the first part of the 20th century. This was a time in which the country brought many Koreans over as forced laborers. This makes the hate speech a particularly sensitive subject.

However, some critics argue that the ruling could set the wrong precedent for further rallies, as it could be a slippery slope for free speech in the country.

An open internet
Despite this ruling, the country has made important strides for other individual citizens' right, namely, when it comes to internet freedoms.

Tech in Asia explains that the recent Freedom House report on web access and limitations indicates that Japan is the most free. This in comparison to other neighboring countries like China and Vietnam is an encouraging sign for the rights of the country's citizens.

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