Saturday, December 04, 2004

Tokyo prosecutes pensioner activist

A retired teacher in Tokyo, Fujita Katsuhisa, is being prosecuted for activism by the city government. He handed out fliers and asked parents at a high-school graduation ceremony not to stand for the national anthem. According to the prosecutors he said: "I ask for your understanding, and if possible, I would like to ask you to stay seated," which makes him sound rather sweet, but to the ultra-right Tokyo administration he is, no doubt, a dangerous radical.

I've written here before (Amnesty asks Japanese gov't not to force anthem or flag on schools) about the sanctions taken against teachers who have the guts not to stand during the national anthem, noting that racist Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro's administration is in the lead in persecuting public servants for acting according to their consciences, as the Japan Times report on Fujita's case confirms:

On Oct. 23 last year, the board of education issued an order requiring metropolitan government-run schools, including schools for disabled people, to display the Hinomaru national flag and to sing "Kimigayo," unofficially translated as "His Majesty's Reign," during enrollment and graduation ceremonies.

The board stipulated that teachers who failed to comply with the order would be subject to penalties, prompting criticism that the move violates freedom of thought and conscience as provided for under the Constitution.

The Japan Times report also mentions that Fujita says he didn't disrupt the graduation ceremony - unless handing out fliers and talking to parents counts, I guess - and his lawyers note that the District Prosecutor's office, which issued the indictment, didn't interview Fujita first, breaking with standard procedure.

Legal cases in Japan run very slowly, so this one is likely to take years, unless pressure can be brought to bear on the Tokyo government so that they drop it. As a service to readers, here's an email address from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government website:

Please forward any comments, suggestions or opinions you may have regarding the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to us at:

If you do email them, please be polite. I very much doubt this address goes directly to Ishihara, and I imagine that anyone working for him has a hard enough time without abuse from activists. The people I've met who work in local government in Japan have all been very helpful. They are motivated by considerations of public service, and the ones who learn English so they can work with non-Japanese speakers are usually enthusiastic internationalists, predictably.

I'll do my best to keep up with developments in the case here.

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