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Restricting citizen's activities in public halls?

November 24, 2015

Editorial: Free exchange of opinions should be guaranteed at public facilities



There are moves to limit the use of municipal and other public halls for citizens' activities in relation to the Constitution and nuclear power among other key issues, giving the public an oppressive feeling. Freedom to use such facilities should be guaranteed as much as possible.

The Saitama Municipal Assembly revised an ordinance on the management of a city-owned facility for citizens groups this past October. Following such revisions, the municipal government will terminate its contract with a nonprofit organization (NPO) to manage the conference hall and place the facility under the direct control of the city in spring next year.

The change was sparked by calls by a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member of the city assembly. "There are some citizens' organizations that are engaged in political activities. These organizations are given priority in using the hall, raising questions about fairness. The hall should be placed under the city's direct control and standards for managing the facility should be reviewed," the assembly member said.

Specifically, questions were raised over the use of the city-run facility by 14 citizens' organizations that are involved in such activities as those on war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, atomic power policy and the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea.

The NPO -- the Saitama NPO Center -- has demanded that the revisions to the ordinance be retracted on the grounds that it would restrict freedom of citizens' activities and that no particular organization has been given priority in using the facility.

The Saitama NPO Center has been commissioned by the municipal government to manage the facility since 2007. Approximately 1,700 registered organizations use the hall for meetings and other purposes.

Under the Act on Promotion of Specified Non-profit Activities, political issues are recognized as part of NPOs' activities. The Saitama Municipal Government's ordinance on NPOs has been enforced pursuant to the law. There is no ground for determining that NPOs' activities regarding Article 9 of the Constitution and nuclear power run counter to the ordinance.

Courts have handed down numerous rulings that respect freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, which are guaranteed by the Constitution, to the maximum extent. The Supreme Court has ruled that the managers of halls and other public facilities can refuse to lend such facilities for meetings and other events only in cases where it is clearly predicted that the gatherings would cause danger.

However, apart from the Saitama Municipal Government, some universities and other institutions are also trying to distance themselves from citizens' activities regarding politics. Rikkyo University refused to lend a hall in October for a symposium organized by the Association of Scholars Opposed to the Security-related Laws.

The university explained that the symposium is not purely an academic gathering as the reason for its decision. However, some members of Rikkyo University's teaching staff who negotiated with the university said they had been told that "the symposium could have political implications."

According to citizens' organizations across the country, there have been cases in recent years in which the managers of public conference halls expressed a reluctance to lend rooms for rallies on Article 9 of the Constitution and security-related legislation. If an atmosphere is to be prevalent in which political activities are rejected or unwelcomed, it could restrict citizens' activities.

It is important to guarantee sites for free debate particularly on themes over which public opinion is split. If the public were to be deprived of such sites, it would obstruct the development of a wholesome civil society.


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