The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly has passed an update to the Tokyo Anti-Nuisance Ordinance that, activists say, will potentially muzzle protests and free speech, and strengthen police powers over civil liberties.
The revision, which was voted through on 29 March and comes into force on 1 July, broadens the scope of the ordinance to cover actions that fall into a vaguely defined category of “stalking” or “harassing” (worded as tsukimatoi in Japanese). Police in Tokyo commonly charge people with violating the ordinance for such offences as groping, public indecency or taking photographs of someone without permission. However, opponents note that it is not inconceivable that anti-government tweets and emails might fall into this new “harassment” classification. All those angry citizens regularly gathering at the Diet or Kantei these past months to denounce Prime Minister Shinzō Abe for his alleged cronyism might no longer be there in the near future, if such vilifying verbally or on social media is delegated as tsukimatoi.
During the 29 March plenary session, Governor Yuriko Koike’s Tomin First no Kai party, which has a majority in the Assembly when teamed with its allies, passed the revision based on the reasoning that protest and press freedom would be exempt, but it was opposed by the Japanese Communist Party since such safeguards were not included in the actual wording.
In March, activists held several demonstrations to protest what they saw as Koike’s railroading of the amendments through the Assembly after just a single deliberation session. In addition to these street protests at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku and elsewhere, an online petition was launched. In spite of some press coverage, the case has attracted relatively little public attention and the protests failed to catch on (the petition, for example, received less than 7,500 responses).
While over 100 civil groups sent petitions to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government objecting to revision, major liberal or opposition groups did not mobilise supporters for large rallies. The JCP was vocal in its criticism but the increasingly popular Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has few seats in the Assembly. Ironically, the largest “opposition” bloc in the Assembly is now the LDP, which is firmly on the Right.
As such, the activists on the streets were generally unaffiliated, though with prominent support from lawyers, which typically means numbers will be low unless the issue is very clear-cut or emotive. That being said, some protestors were associated with formal organisations; the veteran far-left group Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction), for example, held a protest on 22 March at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building related to the revisions as well as its long-running dispute over a laid-off canteen worker at the headquarters.
The new development is the latest in a series of perceived threats against freedom of speech and assembly, following the State Secrecy Law in 2013 and the Conspiracy Law in 2017. There have also been proposals from the Ministry of Justice for some time now to enhance police powers for criminal investigations, such as extending wiretapping practices, ostensibly to combat a rise in fraud cases in Japan.
As Tokyo gears up for the 2020 Olympics, there is anxiety that it will be used as an excuse to crack down on political groups, prevent activists from protesting and carry out arrests or searches on flimsy grounds. It is surely not insignificant that a new edition of Kyūen Note, the famous manual that originally appeared in 1970 offering advice for student activists about what to do if arrested, was published in April with updates reflecting the recent legal changes.