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Last updated on 05.12.2018 at 08:34

Japan-Overview

The rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression are protected under the constitution of Japan, and are generally respected in practice. Assembly rights are protected, and peaceful assemblies routinely take place.

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Anti-racism protests held to counteract far-right marches

Anti-racism protests held to counteract far-right marches

In October 2018, anti-racism groups staged mass demonstrations in cities across Japan to counteract a series of marches by an openly racist far-right group opposed to immigration in Japan.

Peaceful assembly

Far-right protests met with anti-racism opposition

On 14th October 2018, anti-racism groups staged mass demonstrations in cities across Japan to counteract a series of marches by an openly racist far-right group opposed to immigration into Japan.

The relatively new fringe political party Japan First, organised the demonstrations all across Japan including in Tokyo, Yokohama and Kawasaki, and in regional cities such as Fukushima and Fukuoka. The protests reportedly comes on the heels of the Japanese government announcing plans to ease the path for foreign workers to obtain long-term work visas. Japan is currently facing a serious labour shortage due to its shrinking and aging population.

Anti-racism groups, in turn, decided to take to the streets and in many places outnumbered the far-right marchers. In the lead up to the racist marches counter-demonstrators shared common hashtags, differentiated by city name, to arrange meetup points and coordinate activities. One of the most active hashtags was “Zero Tolerance for October 14 Yokohama Hate March".

Music festival held to protest against Tokyo Anti-Nuisance Ordinance

On 7th October 2018, the second edition of the annual Ittoku music protest festival was held near the National Diet (parliament). Ittoku was launched in 2017 and led by the musician Chikara Urabe, to protest against state secrets, wiretapping and conspiracy laws. This year, the focus of the festival was to protest against the revisions to the Tokyo Anti-Nuisance Ordinance that was passed in May 2018. As previously documented, the revised ordinance, covers actions that fall into a vaguely defined category of “stalking” or “harassing”. Activists are concerned that anti-government tweets and emails might fall into this new “harassment” classification and that it could be used to muzzle protests and free speech.

Protests against nuclear power plants

On 26th October 2018, in the Nagatacho district of Tokyo, protesters gathered in front of the office of the Prime Minister to protest against the operation of nuclear power plants. The protest was held by the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes to demand the halt of nuclear power plant operations in Japan.

Since the earthquake in east Japan followed by the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station disaster in March 2011, anti-nuclear protests have been held on a regularly basis. After mass protests held in 2012 with over 200,000 people participating, the then Prime Minister Noda announced that Japan would close operating nuclear plants by 2030. However, the government has since failed to fulfill its promise and therefore the protests have continued. In July 2018, the protesters marked the 300th gathering since the disaster, but have found it hard to keep the momentum around the protests.

Association

Activists arrested for disseminating political materials to students

On 4th November 2018, two activists from the left-wing student group Zengakuren (the All-Japan Federation of Students’ Self-Government Associations) were arrested in central Tokyo for allegedly entering a university campus to distribute political publications. The two activists, Yohei Sakube and Yuichi Utsumi are central figures of the Zengakuren branch in Kyoto University. At the time of the arrest, it was reported that they had visited various locations on the campus of Toyo University, a private college, on their way to the annual gathering of Doro-Chiba, a labour union gathering held in Hibiya. They reportedly handed out flyers with information on an upcoming rally.

One of those arrested, Yohei Sakube, is a key actor in an on-going lawsuit against the Tokyo metropolitan police for police harassment and assault against student activists at a rally held in September 2016. The other activist, Yuichi Utsumi, has been active in the student movement since 2009 and has been charged multiple times under the Law for the Punishment of Acts of Violence, which is a prewar statute against organised activism. The recent arrest of these activists and on-going lawsuit against the police for brutality against student protesters raises concerns about increased restrictions on student activism in Tokyo.

Tokyo government passes law against LGBT discrimination

On 5th October 2018, the Tokyo Metropolitan government passed a bill that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The act also commits the city government to undertake public education about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.

The new Tokyo law states that “the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, citizens, and enterprises may not unduly discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation” and pledges that the government will “conduct measures needed to make sure human rights values are rooted in all corners of the city and diversity is respected in the city”.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Tokyo authorities were inspired to draft the bill in advance of the city hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics. Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch said:

“The Tokyo metropolitan government has enshrined in law its commitment to hosting an inclusive and rights-respecting Olympic games. The authorities now need to put the policy into action and end anti-LGBT discrimination in schools, workplaces, and the wider society.”

Japan’s national government has, in recent years, taken positive steps toward recognising and protecting LGBT people, The Education Ministry issued a “Guidebook for Teachers” in 2016 that outlines how to treat LGBT students in schools. In March 2017, the ministry announced it had revised the national bullying prevention policy to include LGBT students.

However, Japan still has no national legislation protecting LGBT people from discrimination and does not grant legal recognition to same-sex couples. It also labels transgender people who request legal recognition as having a “Gender Identity Disorder” and leaves them with no alternative but to undergo unnecessary and invasive medical procedures to secure official documents that reflect their gender identity.

Association

The civil society sector in Japan is robust. Non-profit organizations are legally recognized and protected under the Law to Promote Specified Non-profit Activities (1999), and are not subject to overly burdensome reporting requirements, or restrictions on their activities, areas of focus, or foreign funding.

The civil society sector in Japan is robust. Non-profit organizations are legally recognized and protected under the Law to Promote Specified Non-profit Activities (1999), and are not subject to overly burdensome reporting requirements, or restrictions on their activities, areas of focus, or foreign funding. Labour unions are active.

Peaceful Assembly

Public assemblies are an important part of the political and social culture of Japan, and freedom of peaceful assembly is generally respected.

Public assemblies are an important part of the political and social culture of Japan, and freedom of peaceful assembly is generally respected. In recent years, large-scale peaceful protests against the Specially Designated Secrets Act, and the continuing US military presence in Okinawa, have taken place without interference from authorities.

Expression

The constitution protects the right to freedom of expression, and Japan possesses a vibrant and independent media. However, concerns have been raised that media freedoms are being threatened under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The constitution protects the right to freedom of expression, and Japan possesses a vibrant and independent media. However, concerns have been raised that media freedoms are being threatened under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Journalists have cited as particular threats pressure to avoid reporting on sensitive topics, and the spectre of prosecution under the Specially Designated Secrets Act. Under the act journalists who work with government whistleblowers could face up to five years in prison. These threats also contribute to a growing culture of self-censorship. At the conclusion of a visit to Japan in April 2016, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye, observed that, ‘a weak system of legal protection, persistent Government exploitation of a media lacking in professional solidarity, and the recent adoption of the Specially Designated Secrets Act are all combining to impose what I perceive to be significant challenges especially to the mainstream media.’