A Japanese court has ordered a far-right hate group to pay 12 million yen ($120,000) to a Kyoto elementary school after the group staged anti-Korean rallies that disturbed classes and frightened students. The landmark ruling marks the first time that insults spewed at such demonstrations have been deemed racial discrimination – deeming the proclamations unprotected by Japan’s constitutional right to free speech. It also bans ultranationalists from rallying outside the pro-Pyongyang elementary school in the future.
The hate group, called the Zaitokukai (an abbreviation of a name meaning “Citizens’ League to Deny Foreigners Special Rights”), claims to have 14,000 members across Japan. Drawing comparisons to the skinheads and neo-Nazis of the West, Zaitokukai are often young Japanese men seeking a scapegoat for their personal frustrations. Many are unemployed or underemployed and blame foreigners, especially ethnic Koreans, for taking jobs and receiving government welfare. Unlike Western hate groups, however, Zaitokukai generally avoid physical violence.
“Japanese society has been too insensitive to racial discrimination,” said Yoshifu Arita, a lawmaker who is pushing for hate speech legislation in the Japanese parliament, in an interview with Japan Today. “We must take steps to eradicate hate speech against Korean and Chinese people, and address broader discrimination problems.”
Koreans make up the largest ethnic minority group in Japan, with about half a million residing across the country. Many can trace their roots to forced laborers and “comfort women” who were sent to Japan during its colonial expansion in the first half of the 19th century. Koreans still face discrimination when searching for jobs or marriage partners.
This year has seen a spike in anti-Korean protests, with many Zaitokukai groups descending on the Shin-Okubo neighborhood of Tokyo, known as the city’s “Koreatown.”
“Hundreds of group members and supporters called Koreans ‘cockroaches,’ shouted ‘Kill Koreans’ and threatened to ‘throw them into the sea,’” at a recent demonstration in Tokyo, reported The Japan Times.
Counter-protesters who clashed with Zaitokokai at “hate parades” earlier this year provided a positive signal that Japanese attitudes toward discrimination are changing.
“We are here to protect you. We will never let the right wing protesters come here,” said one anti-hate advocate, according to KoreaBang.
“We can’t hold the Olympics with ethnic discrimination. We shouldn’t hold it with such shame,” said another.