Photo/IllutrationProtesters confront hate speech demonstrators in Tokyo in 2016. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

This month marks the third anniversary of the coming into force of the law to crack down on hate speech, or forms of expressions denigrating specific racial and ethnic groups and inciting hatred and discrimination against them.

With no provision to punish violations, it is a law aimed exclusively at establishing basic principles for dealing with the problem. But it has nevertheless produced some results.

As the central and local governments have started taking actions in line with the spirit of the law, the number of hate rallies and demonstrations, marked by extremely hateful words and phrases such as “die” and “kill them,” has declined, for instance.

The court has also become more activist when it comes to rejecting hate speech by taking such actions as issuing an injunction to ban what is likely to be a hate rally or handing down a ruling that orders the operator of a website offering a collection of discriminatory posts to pay compensation for defaming an individual.

There have also been some hate speech cases that law-enforcement authorities have prosecuted as “criminal contempt” or “defamation of character,” resulting in fines and other penalties against the perpetrators.

The Diet’s move to demonstrate its will to stand against hate speech by enacting the legislation has changed the stance of the central and local governments toward the issue and provided a strong incentive for judicial and law-enforcement agencies to take specific actions against promoters of hate speech.

The enactment of the law has produced significant effects.

That is not to say, however, the law has significantly improved the situation.

The Internet is still awash with discriminatory comments and expressions, made under the cloak of anonymity.

After a May 28 stabbing spree in Kawasaki that left 20 people, mostly elementary school children, dead or injured, false rumors saying the perpetrator was a Korean resident in Japan spread.

Every time a major disaster occurs in this country, vicious and groundless rumors warning that members of a specific racial group will take advantage of the situation to commit crimes arise and spread.

Discriminatory arguments have also been heard during election campaigns in recent years.

One notorious anti-Korean activist ran in the 2016 Tokyo gubernatorial election and delivered many campaign speeches loaded with prejudice against Korean residents in Japan.

A political group established by this person has fielded candidates for elections nationwide and calls for the exclusion of foreign nationals as the main plank on its platform.

Hate promoters are using increasingly more sophisticated and insidious approaches, refraining from clearly illegal expressions and attacks on individuals to avoid being punished. There are growing calls for additional policy and legal responses to such subtle forms of hate speech.

In March, the Justice Ministry announced that it will take human rights remedy actions against hate speech targeting specific groups even if not specific individuals.

If a discriminatory online post targeting a specific area or a school is found, for example, the ministry will ask the operator of the website to delete it.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has introduced an ordinance to restrict the use of its facilities for potential hate rallies and other hate speech events.

The Kawasaki municipal government is considering whether the ordinance to eradicate discrimination it is currently working on should include a provision to punish violations.

This is a delicate issue because of the difficulty of drawing a line between hate speech and free speech, which raises concerns that any legal or regulatory provision to penalize hate speech could cause excessive restrictions on free speech. This challenge led to a decision against including such a provision in the anti-hate speech law.

We should keep paying attention to efforts by local governments to tackle the problem.

There is clearly no quick fix. Fostering a solid commitment of our society to rooting out hate speech requires steady, continual efforts to deal with the deficiencies and shortcomings of the current system one by one through careful reviews and assessments.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 16