Photo/IllutrationPeople protest hate speech while holding signs that read “Shame on you” or “We will not tolerate hate speech” in Kawasaki’s Kawasaki Ward on June 3, 2018. (Shigehiro Saito)

KAWASAKI--The Kawasaki city government is putting more teeth into a planned ordinance to ban hate speech by threatening to take criminal action against repeat offenders and levying hefty fines.

Kawasaki has been leading the charge on this issue because of its sizable Korean population and past incidences of hate speech rallies that put the matter under the public spotlight.

The ordinance will ban such activities at public venues and facilities in the city.

A clause in the draft ordinance will allow municipal authorities to file a criminal complaint against three-time offenders, who could face a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($4,670).

Officials said that as far as they are aware, Kawasaki will be the nation’s first city government to enact an ordinance with a criminal punitive clause against repeat offenders.

The draft ordinance, presented to the city assembly on June 24, is intended to put an end to rallies and actions that target specific ethnic groups and try to oust them from their communities.

The proposed ordinance stipulates three stages to deal with hate speech offenders: First, the city mayor issues a warning against hate speech offenders to desist; second-time offenders will be ordered by the mayor to stop; and finally, the city government will file a criminal complaint against three-time offenders with police or prosecutors on behalf of victims, and also publicize their names and groups they represent.

It will be up to a court or other judicial authorities to decide whether a fine should also be applied.

The mayor is expected to consult with an expert panel over incidents deemed to be in violation of the ordinance before issuing a warning or order to stop.

The panel is empowered to allow offenders to defend their actions in writing.

“We need to give consideration to freedom of speech, guaranteed by the Constitution,” said a high-ranking city official. “City authorities should not be allowed to arbitrarily determine what constitutes hate speech.”

Hate speech demonstrations emerged as a serious social issue around 2013 in communities with large populations of ethnic Koreans and minorities, such as Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo district and the Tsuruhashi district in Osaka.

In Kawasaki, hate speech rallies were staged in parks managed by the city government.

A law to crack down on hate speech was enacted in 2016, but it amounted simply to establishing basic principles for dealing with the problem and had no provisions for punishing violations.

Two years later, Kawasaki became the nation’s first municipality to restrict access to city parks and other public facilities when private groups that are known to have staged hate speech rallies sought permission from city authorities to use the venues for gatherings.

The step was in line with city guidelines that took effect in spring 2018.

The municipal government noted that no hate speech demonstrations are known to have occurred in Kawasaki since the 2016 anti-hate speech law was enacted.

Still, a senior city official underlined the importance of setting tougher measures against hate speech.

“Hate speech rallies will likely occur again in Kawasaki and an ordinance with a punitive clause will be the only way to prevent a recurrence of such incidents in the future,” the official said.

The city government plans to solicit public input on the proposed ordinance this summer before it submits the draft ordinance to a city assembly session in December.

The city hopes to put the ordinance into force in July 2020.