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Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007

Canvassing monk found guilty of trespassing


Staff writer

A Buddhist monk passing out fliers for the Japanese Communist Party was found guilty Tuesday of trespassing by the Tokyo High Court, which overturned a lower court ruling.

News photo
Yosei Arakawa (right) speaks to reporters Tuesday after the Tokyo High Court found him guilty of trespassing in a trial he says was based on the right to free speech. KYODO PHOTO

Last year, the Tokyo District Court ruled that Yosei Arakawa, a priest with the Shinshu Otani Buddhist sect, was within his constitutional rights to pass out the leaflets at a condo complex in Tokyo in 2004, despite ignoring no trespassing signs.

Arakawa branded the latest ruling "groundless" and said the appeal by prosecutors was an attempt to censure his freedom of speech and expression.

Presiding Judge Osamu Ikeda stated that notices posted at the complex prohibiting distribution of leaflets represented the consensus of the residents, which took precedence over Arakawa's rights.

Arakawa was fined ¥50,000 for the violation.

The constitutional right to free speech and expression "must be held with utmost respect" but should not be guaranteed "absolutely and without restriction," Ikeda ruled.

Dressed in his black priest's attire, Arakawa looked intently at the judge as the verdict was handed down.

"The ruling disregarded both the Constitution and a social norm," Arakawa, 60, said afterward, with prayer beads in his hand. An appeal to the Supreme Court was immediately filed, he said.

According to the court, Arakawa distributed JCP fliers at a seven-story condo complex in Katsushika Ward at around 2:20 p.m. on Dec. 23, 2004.

Arakawa was told to stop by a resident on the third floor, who called police. Officers dispatched from Kameari Police Station arrested Arakawa for trespassing.

Police then conducted a search of the monk's residence, which Arakawa's lawyers denounced as "completely uncalled for."

Though the company managing the complex had banned distribution of leaflets, passing out fliers is a common practice and within Arakawa's right to free speech, the lawyers argued.

In August 2006, the Tokyo District Court ruled in favor of the monk, stating that distributing political leaflets is socially acceptable and that the accused was not engaged in illegal activities.

But the prosecutors, who had demanded a ¥100,000 fine imposed on Arakawa, filed an appeal on the grounds that passing out fliers did not justify trespassing.

Though the housing complex lacked an automated gate, this was not an invitation to free entrance, but only indicated that "such a system was not popular at the time of the building's construction," the prosecutors argued during the appeal process.

In Tuesday's ruling, Judge Ikeda acknowledged that Arakawa's motive for entering the property was not malicious but suggested other methods were available to him to exercise his right to freedom of expression.

"The residents of the housing complex should not be required to endure forbidden entries" because of Arakawa's constitutional right, the judge said.

One of Arakawa's lawyers, Osuke Nakamura, told reporters he was "astonished and furious" with the ruling, noting that leaflets are distributed at the housing complex every day and that the manager had received no complaints about the practice.

Arakawa's supporters, including JCP members of the Katsushika ward assembly such as Shingo Nakamura, asserted that the monk was persistently persecuted for passing out JCP fliers. "The ruling clearly had its eye on hounding the JCP," Nakamura told reporters after the trial.



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