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Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012

Organizer wanted to use Hibiya as starting point

Antinuclear activists denied use of park


Staff writer

A protest march planned for this Sunday in Tokyo to call for the abolishment of nuclear power has been canceled due to the metropolitan government's rejection for the organizer to use Hibiya Park in Chiyoda Ward as a meeting point.

The metropolitan government's decision late last month has been upheld by the Tokyo District and High courts.

The organizer, Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, which has been running the weekly rallies in front of the prime minister's office, decided Monday night to cancel the march. The group had been expecting some 10,000 participants.

The organizer was planning to have participants meet in a plaza in Hibiya Park before taking to the streets. Their route was to take them past the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co.

The organizer is still planning to hold a big rally from 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday around the prime minister's office, the Diet building and ministry buildings in the Kasumigaseki district. The group is hoping to attract about 1 million people to join that event.

"The courts don't understand the significance and the nature of the demonstrations taking place after March 11 (last year,)" said Nobuo Kojima, the lead attorney for a group of lawyers representing the rally organizer.

"I think the courts are still afraid of demonstrations, but these are very well organized, and the large number wouldn't hinder other people's use of the park," he said.

In major rallies held in March and July this year, participants were able to meet in Hibiya Park before holding marches. They had submitted applications to the park office to use a park plaza as the starting point.

But when the coalition submitted an application in late October for Sunday's march, the park office denied them use of the space. The officials said a large turnout could hinder management of the park, as there are several other events planned there for the same day.

According to Tetsuya Shikada, head of the parks division of the metropolitan government, the park has had a rule that demonstration gatherings can only be held in Hibiya Public Hall and Hibiya Music Hall, and not in other parts of the park.

Shikada admitted that the park office had failed to properly screen the organizer's applications on the previous two occasions. He said the rally organizer may have "mistook" the submission of the application as being equal to having received approval, which was not the case.

After the rally in late July, the metropolitan government received complaints from officials at Hibiya Library, which is located inside the park, that the large turnout prevented library users from entering the building and caused other problems. Shikada said the park office is now applying the rules more carefully.

"The public halls were already booked for this coming Sunday by other groups. We encouraged the rally organizer to use the halls the following week, or use other parks as alternatives. We don't mean to deny people's freedom of expression or their right to rally," Shikada said.

The group brought their case to the Tokyo District Court and demanded that the metropolitan government allow them to use the park as a meeting point. But the court said no, ruling that it was reasonable for the government to say that the large turnout may affect other park users.

The group appealed, but the Tokyo High Court also rejected the plaintiff's claim Monday.

Lawyer Kojima said that the change in the metropolitan government's attitude is a sign that they want to control people's opportunities to hold demonstrations. "It seems to me that they want to control the number of rallies there, even though there is enough space. This is violation of freedom of speech, and it's a major problem for our democracy," he said.



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