Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The independent press and a functioning democratic political system sustained freedom of expression in the reporting year, although an international group of journalists, Reporters Without Borders, commented, “journalists find it hard put to fully play their role as democracy’s watchdog because of the influence of tradition and business interests.” The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government respected these freedoms.
Freedom of Expression: According to media and NGO reports, incidents of hate speech against minorities and their defenders, in particular, on the internet, grew. The national law on hate speech applies only to discriminatory speech and behavior directed at those who are not of Japanese heritage and is limited to educating and raising public awareness among the general public against hate speech; it does not carry penalties. Prosecutors have instead used another law on libel to prosecute an extremist group for hate speech, as discussed below. Additionally, on the local-government level, Osaka City and Kyoto Prefecture, where nationalist groups have frequently staged public anti-Korea events near “Korea Town” neighborhoods, as well as Kawasaki City and Tokyo Prefecture, have passed their own ordinances or guidelines to regulate hate speech.
In April the Kyoto Prefectural Prosecutors’ Office indicted a former Zaitokukai (an ultranationalist organization) senior official, Hitoshi Nishimura, on libel charges for making derogatory online and public statements about the North Korea-affiliated Chosen School in Kyoto. Attorneys for the school’s owner welcomed the prosecutors’ decision to pursue a defamation charge under the Penal Code, which carries a heavier sentence than civil charges levied against other Zaitokukai members following similar incidents in 2009.
Press and Media Freedom: While no such cases have ever been pursued, the law enables the government to prosecute those who publish or disclose government information that is a specially designated secret. Those convicted face up to five years’ imprisonment with work and a fine of not more than five million yen ($44,000).
NGOs reported nationalist groups used social media to harass journalists deemed antigovernment or unpatriotic. In June 2017 the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression reported “significant worrying signals” that government pressure on media outlets caused journalists to self-censor their reporting. The government vigorously contested the UN report, with a senior official telling the media, “freedom of expression and the right to know are fully protected under the Constitution of Japan. The government has never illegally applied pressure on the media. This [allegation] is completely untrue.”
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction; reporters broke a number of stories that were strongly critical of members of the government. Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 World Press Freedom Indexcommented that the system of “kisha” (reporter) clubs may encourage self-censorship. These clubs are established in a variety of organizations, including ministries, and may block nonmembers, including freelance and foreign reporters, from covering the organization.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal as well as civil offense. The law does not accept the truthfulness of a statement in itself as a defense. There is no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion during the year.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely accessible and used.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
In March, at the request of national legislators from the Liberal Democratic Party, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) sent queries to the Nagoya Municipal Education Board about the content and background of a February speech to a junior high school class. The speaker, a former MEXT vice minister, characterized the ministry’s intervention as exceedingly rare and likely constituting improper control of education prohibited by the education basic law. MEXT denied the assertion, saying the inquiry was made under a different law pertaining to local education administration and did not constitute improper control of education.
The Ministry of Education’s approval process for history textbooks, particularly its treatment of the country’s 20th century colonial and military history, was a subject of controversy.
The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The government generally provided adequate shelter and other protective services in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima Prefecture and sought to provide permanent relocation or reconstruction options.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Justice introduced revised screening procedures for refugee applications on January 15 to promote granting refugee status to genuine applicants promptly while also curbing abuse of the application process. As a result, the number of approved applications from January through June, including the approval of two previously denied applications, exceeded the number of approvals granted during all of 2017. In 2017 there were 19,629 applications, 20 of which were approved (0.1 percent). From January through June 2018, the government received 5,586 applications, 22 of which were approved (0.4 percent).
Refugee and asylum applicants who are minors or applicants with disabilities may ask lawyers to participate in their first round of hearings before refugee examiners. UNHCR said there were no such cases during the year. As government-funded legal support was not available for most refugee and asylum seekers requesting it, the Federation of Bar Associations continued to fund a program that provided free legal assistance to those applicants who could not afford it.
The Ministry of Justice, the Federation of Bar Associations, and the NGO Forum for Refugees Japan continued to cooperate to implement the Alternatives to Detention project (ATD) to provide accommodation, casework, and legal services for individuals who arrived at Narita, Haneda, Chubu, and Kansai airports, received temporary landing or provisional stay permission, and sought refugee status. Government-subsidized civil organizations and donations fund the ATD.
The government accepted 22 Burmese from five families on October 4 under its third-country resettlement program for Burmese people, which the government has continued since 2010 as the first Asian country to become a resettlement country.
Freedom of Movement: Civil society groups said the indefinite detention of asylum seekers remained a problem. UNHCR said refugee applicants should not be detained without due process and that children should not be detained.
Employment: Applicants for refugee status normally may not work unless they have valid short-term visas. They must apply for permission to engage in income-earning activities before the visas expire. In the interim before approval, the Refugee Assistance Headquarters, a section of the government-funded Foundation for the Welfare and Education of the Asian People, provided small stipends to some applicants who faced financial difficulties.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees continued to face the same discrimination patterns sometimes seen by other foreigners: reduced access to housing, education, and employment. Except for those who met right-to-work conditions, individuals whose refugee applications were pending or on appeal did not have the right to receive social welfare. This status rendered them completely dependent on overcrowded government shelters, illegal employment, or NGO assistance.
In 2017, in coordination with UNHCR, the government established a scholarship program allowing 100 Syrian refugees to begin postgraduate studies in Japan over the next five years. The government guaranteed the students protection until employment or further study opportunities become available, either in Japan or elsewhere. Immediate family may accompany the students, and tuition and living expenses will be covered by Japanese International Cooperation Agency.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to 45 individuals in 2017 and 21 individuals from January through June who may not qualify as refugees after introducing the revised screening procedures.