Of many incidents surrounding Korean schools, the series of racist demonstrations against Kyoto Korean Daiichi Elementary School and the attack on the Tokushima Prefectural Teachers’ Union, both of which took place in 2009 and 2010, have been tried in Japanese justice system. On the one hand, in both cases of assaults, local district courts failed to acknowledge the importance of Korean schools and their education in civil and criminal trials. However, on the other hand, high court rulings can set good precedents for ongoing, as well as potential court battles as they clearly recognized Korean resident’s right to ethnic education.
－Discrimination against Korean schools and judicial judgment in Japan:
Justice system does not state its stance on cases unless the issues discussed are tried in either criminal or civil trials. There is a need to understand that Korean schools have not had the same opportunities to seek judicial remedy as a viable means to demand equal educational rights as other institutions. For example, in the case of assaults against female students in their school uniforms (known as “Chima Chogori incident”), police department and criminal justice system did not give much attention despite the perpetrator’s motive was based on xenophobic sentiment. Among numerous assaults against people concerned with Korean school, there was only one incident where perpetrators were actually arrested.
It is relatively recent that the Korea schools sought legal remedy for the cases they are involved with. The two representative cases, the attacks on the Kyoto Korean Daiichi Elementary School (hereafter “Kyoto case”; refer to Q3 for details) and attacks on the Tokushima Prefectural Teachers’ Union (hereafter “Tokushima case”) were hate crimes perpetrated by Zaitokukai.
－Outline of the Tokushima Case:
On April 14, 2010 at around one pm, 16 people including members of Zaitokukai barged into the Tokushima Prefectural Teachers’ Union office where a full-time female chief secretary and administrator were present. Using a loudspeaker, they shouted: “national traitor,” “donor fraudster,” and “old hag” at the union workers, and even used physical violence against the chief secretary as she tried to call the police. This case easily falls under the category of forcible obstruction of business. Racist demonstrators accused the Teachers’ Union of financially supporting the Korean school using the donation. Later, on April 28th, Zaitokukai even went on so far as to threaten the chief secretary that they’d come to her house. The footages of their attack and rally were aired online, which resulted in further tangible, as well as intangible damage on the chief secretary and the union.
－Judicial Judgment in the Kyoto Case:
First and foremost, Korean school officials expected prompt arrest and punishment of the perpetrators. However, despite the concerns of students and parents, it took more than 6 months for the police to arrest the perpetrators since they were sued. Although found guilty in criminal court, perpetrators were given a suspended sentence, and the ruling had no mention of negative impacts they had brought to the autonomous education of Korean residents.
In a civil case seeking compensation for damages, a judicial review of the Korean schools on site and rigorous investigation, such as witness interrogation were conducted. The civil court ruling drew a great deal of attention as it recognized the malignancy of racist attacks referring to the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and demanded $120K compensation for the school. However, the ruling did not mention the significance of ethnic education by Koreans in Japan. It appeared that the Japanese judicial system would firmly criticize racists of their actions, but they also maintain a degree of distance from acknowledging the principles of Korean schools.
This concern was addressed by the appealed court decision at Osaka High Court, as the ruling recognized the “benefits of ethnic education” for the Korean school (ruling finalized in the Supreme Court on December 9, 2014). This specific line was drawn from books, Korean Schools as Untold Being and Reportage: Racist Attacks on Kyoto Korean School. The revolutionary Osaka ruling has set the tone for the society that Korean ethnic education must be recognized and respected.
－Judicial Judgment in the Tokushima Case:
In the Tokushima case, the racists attacked the Tokushima Prefectural Teachers’ Union office which had made monetary donation to Shikoku Korean Elementary and Junior High School in Ehime prefecture. Similar to the Kyoto case, criminal justice’s response was passive in criticizing the hate-motivated crime. Despite the clear evidence of violation of the existing criminal code as provided in a video recorded by Zaitokukai themselves, why did police officers and prosecutors take passive attitude on this matter?
Some have pointed out that the seriousness of racial discrimination and necessity of prompt arrest are not sufficiently understood within the police force. It was only after the citizens criticized the suspension of prosecution being too lenient when a criminal trial began. While the judiciary did not fulfill its role, the victims continued to blame themselves. The friendship/relationship nurtured between Japanese citizens and Korean residents through various exchange programs was impaired for several years following the attack. Even in a “hopeful” civil trial, the Tokushima district court ruling did not even recognize that the attack was based on racial discrimination.
*At Takamatsu High Court, the plaintiff (victim) quoted the Kyoto case/Osaka High Court ruling that recognized the importance of “the benefit of ethnic education” for Koreans and its social value in Japanese society, and therefore ethnic education must be protected by law. As a result, the court confirmed racial discrimination as the motive and demanded a high compensation for the damage. This decision was finalized in the Supreme Court.
In both Kyoto and Tokushima cases, the civil appeal trials recognized the importance of Korean education and schools. However, from the perspective of the entire Japanese judiciary, we must not overlook the fact that the criminal justice and civil trials in local courts remained indifferent toward Korean education and failed to acknowledge its importance and benefits for the Korean community. Lawyers, plaintiffs, and supporters must continue to work together as a team in order to bring just judgments in cases pertaining to discrimination and education for ethnic minorities. We still have a long way to go.
In the meantime, having won better judgments at the high court level means we can expect a positive influence on future trials. Regarding ethnic education, legal theories and precedents necessary for writing judgment already exist, and with the passing of anti-hate speech law in Japan (May 2016), we hope to educate the public and bring more awareness to the importance of Korean schools and its ethnic education. This will hold the key to the judiciary in the future.