Japan's Kyoto District Court on Monday ordered a group of activists to pay 12 million yen (USD $120,000) to a Korean elementary school for holding anti-Korean demonstrations that disrupted classes and frightened children. The rallies took place between December 2009 and March 2010 and were attended primarily by members of the ultranationalist Zaitokukai [advocacy website, in Japanese; NYT backgrounder] group, which protests ethnic and racial diversity. The judge held that the protests were illegal as racial discrimination under the UN's International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination [text], which Japan ratified in 1995. The court also held that it was illegal to post videos of the rally online. In addition to the fine, the Zaitokukai are banned from holding further racial protests in the school's neighborhood, and the group's members must stay 600 feet from the school. Monday's ruling marks the first time that insults used during a protest have been held by the court to be racial discrimination, prompting many to speculate whether this ruling will have a further effect on the country's constitutional right to free speech.
Koreans are the largest ethnic minority in Japan and have long been the victims of racial discrimination. Protests by the Zaitokukai, which boasts approximately 14,000 members, have recently grown more intense [WSJ report]. In Japan's Shin-Okubo district, an area known for its Korean community, protesters have become especially disruptive [Japan Daily Press report]. In June, Zaitokukai leader Makoto Sakurai, along with seven other members of the group, were arrested [NYT report] when one of their demonstrations irrupted in violence. During the rallies before the elementary school, members yelled through bullhorns, calling Korean schoolchildren spies and cockroaches.The school sought USD $300,000 in damages for the stress and anxiety these protests caused their students. In court, members of the Zaitokukai argued that they were merely protesting the school's use of a city park for assemblies.