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Saturday, Dec. 10, 2005

High court reversal convicts peace activists of SDF trespass


Staff writer

The Tokyo High Court handed down guilty verdicts Friday to three peace activists for trespassing on a Self-Defense Forces housing compound where they had been distributing antiwar leaflets, overruling their lower court acquittals.

News photo
Nobuhiro Onishi (left), Sachimi Takada (center) and Toshiyuki Obora face reporters Friday in Tokyo after the high court ruled their antiwar-leaflet distribution constituted trespassing.

Nobuhiro Onishi was fined 100,000 yen, while Sachimi Takada and Toshiyuki Obora were fined 200,000 yen. The defendants said they will appeal to the Supreme Court.

Presiding Judge Taketaka Nakagawa ruled that "while freedom of expression should be respected, (people) should not be allowed to violate the rights of others."

Nakagawa said the three defendants had trespassed on the SDF housing compound in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, which was a violation of Article 130 of the Criminal Code.

"The expression of political opinions is guaranteed by freedom of speech, but (people) should not be allowed to go against the will of managers (of a residence or building) and enter residences or buildings to post" leaflets, Nakagawa said in his ruling.

The three activists were arrested in February 2004 on suspicion of trespassing on the Tachikawa housing compound.

They were distributing fliers that objected to the deployment of troops to Iraq and urged SDF members and their families to oppose the dispatch.

Throughout the lower and high court trials, the three activists have maintained they are innocent of the charges.

The Tokyo District Court, which conceded that they had trespassed on the compound, acquitted the three activists last December, ruling that "the distribution of leaflets is an act of political expression that is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution."

Defendant Obora told a news conference that he was disappointed with what he called an extremely unjust ruling.

"If distributing fliers is considered trespassing, (what about) all of the other commercial" and religious fliers being distributed? Obora asked. "None of these people have been arrested. Why just us?"

Takada told reporters the three had been fighting for two years to protect their freedom of expression.

"This ruling could be the finishing blow to democracy in Japan," Takada said. "If such a ruling is finalized . . . citizens' groups active in various parts (of Japan) and individuals distributing (fliers) to express their opinions will suffer the same consequences we did."

The defendants' lawyers expressed anger at the verdict.

"This ruling did not take into consideration freedom of expression," said lawyer Hirotatsu Kojima. "The legal world . . . does not have the idea of generating a society in which people can actively exchange opinions."

Lawyer Masatoshi Uchida also slammed the judgment, saying the high court had a double standard.

"The court takes action to bring relief to the government when it is anxious and uncomfortable" with people's actions, Uchida said. "But (the court) will dismiss the general public's anxiety and discomfort (over the government's actions), stating there is no need for judicial interference in these cases."



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