Activists alarmed by protest restrictions in Tokyo

Peaceful assembly

Protests in Shinjuku ward in Tokyo restricted to one park

In June 2018, the Shinjuku Ward Office in Tokyo announced plans to limit the number of parks that demonstrators could use for rallies. The plans, which commence from 1st August 2018, limit the parks useable for protest from four to just one. According to the plans, the use of three parks in the ward - Kashiwagi Park, Hanazononishi Park and Nishitoyama Park - will be banned as starting points for demonstrations, leaving Shinjuku Chuo Park as the only location for peaceful assembly.

The ward office revealed the plan during a session of the ward assembly's environment and construction committee on 27th June 2018, saying that the decision was made due to recent “hate speech” campaigns in the ward. There have been a small number of demonstrations in Shinjuku ward targeting ethnic Koreans, as the ward is the home to Tokyo’s largest ethnic Korean community. Another reason for the ban was to “preserve parks' functions as venues for relaxation and interaction among residents and safeguarding the living conditions in surrounding area”.

Activists and political parties slammed the ward's new policy, saying:

"It is hate speech that should be restricted. It is wrong to impose restrictions on all demonstrations…The criteria for the use of parks should be reviewed only after considering ordinances and other rules regulating hate speech."

With this decision coming right after the controversial revision to the Tokyo Anti-Nuisance Ordinance in March 2018, many are increasingly worried that their civil rights are under threat. The revised ordinance which came into force in July 2018, 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.

Protest against anti-LGBT lawmaker

On 27th July 2018, thousands of protesters gathered outside the ruling party’s, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), headquarters in Tokyo to demand the resignation of a Japanese MP. Protesters mobilised to demand LDP politician, Mio Sugita, should resign for her derogatory comments about the LGBT community, in an article in entitled "The level of support for 'LGBT' is too high," which appeared in monthly magazine Shincho 45.

In the article, she said that LGBT people "don't have children, and therefore are not productive" members of Japanese society. She also said that “same-sex marriage would encourage people to marry their pets and eventually destroy society” and that the “government should not use taxpayer’s money on supporting same-sex couples,” angering many in Tokyo.

The crowd chanted “This is pride!” and “We don’t need a lawmaker who disregards human rights!” at the hours-long protest. Rina Matayoshi, a 26-year-old lesbian who attended the rally, said that “‘unproductive’ is not a word you use to describe human beings — LGBTs or not” while a trans woman at the protest, Ame Kondo said she was upset by the politician’s remarks saying “it felt like I was being told that I don’t deserve to be alive”.

Currently, roughly 8 percent of Japan's population identify themselves as LGBT. While Japan does not legally recognise same-sex marriage at the national level, local governments, including the Shibuya and Setagaya wards of Tokyo, have taken steps to recognise same-sex partnerships. Other prefectures are taking similar measures. According to Amnesty International, LGBT people still face discrimination at home with their families, at work, in education, and access to health services. 

Expression

Documentary reignites #MeToo debate in Japan

"Japan's Secret Shame", a documentary aired in June by the BBC has has re-ignited the #MeToo debate in a country where women still face challenges in speaking up about sexual violence and harassment. The documentary tells the story of Shiori Ito, who in 2017 came forward with a public allegation of rape against a prominent and well-connected journalist, Noriyuki Yamaguchi. She claims that in 2015, he drugged her after dinner, dragged her to his room and raped her. Despite her allegations, Yamaguchi denies all charges. 

The documentary examines the experiences of making public allegations of sexual violence on the victim’s life, while investigating the various institutions which fail victims. Commenting on the documentary, Ito. Ito said:

“Covering this story in Japan was just impossible…That is why I decided to do it with the BBC. They weren’t afraid to ask questions against the people who have [the] opposite idea of the story…I don’t think that any Japanese media could have done this, so that was really brave of them.”

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Ito’s experience is alarmingly similar to many women in Japan. This includes “abusive police investigation techniques, failure to take sexual violence seriously, lack of support for victims, and at times, society's unwillingness to understand their pain”. Many believe that Ito’s documentary has helped dispel the taboo around discussing sexual violence.

According to government figures, over 95 percent of incidents of sexual violence in Japan are not reported to the police. Discussing rape is often perceived as "embarrassing" in Japan and public opinion often sways towards blaming the victim rather than the attacker.

Japan’s rape laws were only reformed in 2017, and expanded the definition of rape to include forced oral and anal penetration. The reform also lengthened sentences for perpetrators, and permits prosecutions to move forward even in cases where the victim does not file a formal criminal complaint. Prior to this Japanese law defined rape solely as involving violent penetration of a woman's vagina by a man's penis. This prevented many female rape victims as well as men and boys who had been victims of sexual abuse and violence from seeking justice.