Photo/IllutrationPeople sit on a street in Kawasaki’s Nakahara Ward on on June 5, 2016, to block a hate speech demonstration. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

KAWASAKI--Kawasaki city became the first municipality in Japan to establish guidelines on preventing hate speech groups from using parks and other public facilities to spread their messages of discrimination and fear.

The guidelines, announced on Nov. 9, will take effect by the end of March next year in this city, where problems have arisen over anti-Korea demonstrations.

Under the guidelines, the city can issue warnings and refuse to allow groups to use public facilities if “concrete threats of hate speech, determined by objective standards, could appear at those venues.”

The city can also rescind its permission for the use of those facilities if it finds a potential threat of hate speech.

Judgments will be based on the applicants’ past activities and information they sent on the Internet. A final decision will be made based on opinions from third-party organizations formed by lawyers and others.

To guarantee “freedom of expression” under the Constitution, the city included a prerequisite that refusals or cancellations can only be applied if it is clear, through objective facts, that other users of the public facilities face danger from the applicant.

Kawasaki, located in Kanagawa Prefecture southwest of Tokyo, has one of the largest concentrations of Korean and other foreign residents in the Kanto region. The city’s population of 1.5 million includes more than 38,000 foreign residents.

Anti-Korean rallies have been held in Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo district in Shinjuku Ward and Osaka’s Tsuruhashi district. The demonstrators have chanted menacing phrases, telling ethnic Koreans in those areas to leave Japan or to die. Even children at Korean schools have been targeted by deafening and repeated taunts.

In and after 2013, such demonstrations were held at least 12 times in Kawasaki.

“An administrative body has taken measures to protect us from damage,” said Choi Kang-ija, a 44-year-old third-generation ethnic Korean who lives in Kawasaki and has called for anti-hate speech measures. “I am encouraged and glad with Kawasaki’s move. This is a significant step to reach out to society and say discrimination is not allowed.”

In June 2016, Japan enacted an anti-hate speech law aimed at preventing verbal abuse and threatening behavior toward ethnic Koreans and others of non-Japanese ancestry.

The law stipulates that “wrongful discriminatory words” include such elements as: encouraging damage to lives, bodies and properties; egregious insults; and promoting exclusion from society.

However, the law is essentially “philosophical” in nature because it does not stipulate specific prohibitions or penalties against offenders.

The Justice Ministry has provided examples of what constitutes hate speech, but it has essentially relied on municipal governments to directly deal with the issue.

According to the National Police Agency, 65 demonstrations by right-wing groups were held in the year before the anti-hate speech law was enacted.

In the year after the law took effect, the number fell to 40.

From January to October this year, there were 42 demonstrations, up from 35 during the same period in the previous year.

After the law was enacted, a Kawasaki city council submitted a report to the city assembly, urging it to create guidelines to restrict the use of public facilities by hate speech groups. In June this year, the Kawasaki government expressed its intention to set up the guidelines and solicited opinions from the public.

The council said that in addition to the guidelines, it hopes other measures will be taken, including a possible ordinance, to promote multiculturalism and to abolish discrimination.

In July 2016, Osaka became the first municipal government to adopt an anti-hate speech ordinance.

Individuals or groups found to have violated the ordinance are named and shamed on the city government’s website. A panel of experts decides if the contents of their actions constitute hate speech.

So far, four cases of videos posted on the Internet have been deemed hate speech.

But those cases have yet to appear on the website because the city cannot obtain the names and addresses of the offenders.

(This article was written by Shigehiro Saito, Hiromi Saito, and Ryuichi Kitano, senior staff writer.)