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Don't Let ISIS Crisis Hobble Free Expression in Japan: Petition

kazuhiro soda

Kazuhiro Soda; Image courtesy Kazuhiro Soda

An online statement in support of freedom of expression in Japan started by journalists on January 31 has attracted more than a 1,000 signatories so far.

The declaration, called “A Statement in Opposition to Self-Restraint” (“翼賛体制構築に抗するという「声明」”) was drafted by New York-based Japanese documentary filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda.

The statement, and request for signatories, came during the recent hostage crisis that confronted Japan in late January. Violent militant group ISIS threatened to kill Japanese nationals Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto unless the Japanese government paid a ransom of $200 million.

Yukawa and Goto have since been murdered by ISIS.

Soda and others in the media became alarmed after any discussion critical of the Japanese government's approach to resolving the crisis was met with severe criticism, both in social media and from the government itself. The calls for “self-restraint” reminded Soda and others of Japan's wartime atmosphere, where no dissent was permitted at all.

In response, Soda drafted and posted the following declaration which was posted on this blog, urging his like-minded readers, many of whom are journalists, writers, filmmakers and commentators, to sign the declaration themselves by emailing:

hanyokusan@gmail.com

声明文(案)

私たちは「ISIL」による卑劣極まりない邦人人質惨殺事件を強く非難し、抗議するものである。また、この憎しみと暴力の連鎖の帰結として起きた事件が、さらなる憎しみや暴力の引き金となることを恐れている。
同時に、事件発生以来、現政権の施策・行動を批判することを自粛する空気が日本社会やマスメディア、国会議員までをも支配しつつあることに、重大な危惧を憶えざるを得ない。
「このような非常時には国民一丸となって政権を支えるべき」
「人命尊重を第一に考えるなら、政権の足を引っ張るような行為はしてはならない」
「いま政権を批判すれば、テロリストを利するだけ」
そのような理屈で、政権批判を非難する声も聞こえる。
だが、こうした理屈には重大な問題が潜んでいる。
まず、実際の日本政府の行動や施策が、必ずしも人質の解放に寄与するものとは限らず、人質の命を危うくすることすらあり得るということだ。であるならば、政府の行動や施策は、主権者や国会議員(立法府)やマスメディアによって常に監視・精査・検証され、批判されるべき事があれば批判されるのは当然の事であろう。
また、「非常時」であることを理由に政権批判を自粛すべきだという理屈を認めてしまうなら、原発事故や大震災などを含めあらゆる「非常時」に政権批判をすることができなくなってしまう。たとえば、日本が他国と交戦状態に入ったときなどにも、「今、政権を批判すれば、敵を利するだけ」「非常時には国民一丸となって政権を支えるべき」という理屈を認めざるを得なくなり、結果的に「翼賛体制」の構築に寄与せざるを得なくなるだろう。
しかし、そうなってしまっては、他国を侵略し日本を焼け野原にした戦時体制とまったく同じではないか? 70数年前もこうして「物言えぬ空気」が作られ、私たちの国は破滅へ向かったのではなかったか?
実際、テレビで政権批判をすると、発言者や局に対してネットなどを通じて「糾弾」の動きが起こり、現場の人々に圧力がかかっている。
問題なのは、政権批判を自粛ないし非難する人々に、自らがすでに「翼賛体制」の一部になりつつあるとの自覚が薄いようにみえることである。彼らは自らの行動を「常識的」で「大人」の対応だと信じているようだが、本当にそうであろうか?私たちは、今こそ想像力を働かせ、歴史を振り返り、過去と未来に照らし合わせて自らの行動を検証し直す必要があるのではないだろうか?
日本国憲法第21条には、次のように記されている。
「集会、結社及び言論、出版その他一切の表現の自由は、これを保障する」
日本国憲法第12条には、次のようにも記されている。
「この憲法が国民に保障する自由及び権利は、国民の不断の努力によって、これを保持しなければならない」
私たちは、この日本国憲法の精神を支持し尊重する。そしてこの精神は、「非常時」であるときにこそ、手厚く守られ尊重されなければならないと考えている。
なぜなら「非常時」にこそ、問題の解決のためには、様々な発想や見方、考え方が必要とされるからである。
私たち言論・表現活動に携わる者は、政権批判の「自粛」という悪しき流れに身をゆだねず、この流れを堰き止めようと考える。誰が、どの党が政権を担おうと、自身の良心にのみ従い、批判すべきだと感じ、考えることがあれば、今後も、臆さずに書き、話し、描くことを宣言する。

Declaration

(Translated into English by Nevin Thompson)

As signatories to this declaration, we have all strongly protested and condemned the cowardly murder of two Japanese men, Kenji Gogo and Haruna Yukawa by ISIS.

We are concerned that what has been an escalating pattern of violence might trigger even more violence and cruelty.

At the same time, as events have unfolded in recent weeks, there has been strong societal pressure in Japan for broadcasters and others in the mass media to practice “self-restraint” (“自粛”, or jishuku) and avoid any criticism of how the government has handled the hostage crisis. This societal pressure has extended even to the level of attempts at controlling how elected National Diet members question government policy.

This level of control of public discourse is deeply worrying for our democratic society in Japan.

“In such extreme times it is important for each and every Japanese person to wholeheartedly support the government's policies.”

“If you value human life, you must never attempt to obstruct the government.”

“If you criticize the government at this time, you are just aiding and abetting terrorism.”

Using this logic, attacks are being made on voices criticizing the Abe government's handling of the ISIS hostage crisis. However, this logic obscures a bigger issue.

First of all, the actual policies and actions of the Japanese government do not necessarily contribute to resolving the hostage crisis.

And even if the policies were always beneficial, it is only natural that the government's policies and activities should always be monitored, carefully examined, and carefully evaluated by the electorate, elected legislators and the mass media.

As well, when we use the term “extreme circumstances” (非常時) as its logic for calling for “self-restraint” when criticizing government policy, it would also include such extraordinary circumstances as nuclear accidents and massive earthquakes and other natural disasters.

As another example, if Japan were to enter armed conflict with another nation, using the current logic of “self-restraint”, the argument could be made that “at this time any criticism of the government only serves to help the enemy's cause. In extreme times such as these the national polity must unite as one to support the government.”

As Japan entered the Second World War, this same logic was used to impose the concept of “self-restraint” on Japanese society and stifle dissent.

During those years of military government in Japan the concept had a name: 翼賛体制 or “yokusan taisei,” a “system in support” of the war aims of the Japanese government.

By accepting “self-restraint” aren't we as a society embracing the very wartime thinking that allowed our nation to invade other countries, eventually leaving Japan as a burned and blackened wasteland?

By creating subjects that are taboo to speak about, are we not leading our country on to ruin once again?

In fact, we know there are some actual cases recently where pundits or broadcaster criticize the government, and a throng of voices on the Internet and other media are quick to blame, pressuring dissenting voices to be silent.

The problem is, those who are quick to attack any criticism of government policy are barely aware that they themselves are in the vanguard of a new, unquestioning “system in support” (翼賛体制, “yokusan taisei”) for the Japanese government.

To these people, calling for “self-restraint”, it's all a matter of “common sense” and “acting like a grown-up.” But is this really correct?

Isn't it vital that we use our imagination to compare what happened in the past to what might happen in the future?

Article 21 of the Japanese Constitution says:

Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.

Article 12 of the Japanese Constitution says:

The freedoms and rights guaranteed to the people by this Constitution shall be maintained by the constant endeavor of the people, who shall refrain from any abuse of these freedoms and rights and shall always be responsible for utilizing them for the public welfare.

We must support and maintain the spirit and intent of the Japanese Constitution, especially in such “extraordinary times.” We must keep a firm, protective grip on the spirit of the Constitution, which guarantees our right to express our opinions freely.

This is because when we as a society experience extraordinary circumstances, we need to hear from a variety of different perspectives on how to solve the problem. This way of thinking should be paramount.

We, as people who exercise our right to freely express ourselves, now declare to resist at all costs the threat of conforming to “self-restraint” and avoiding criticizing the government.

No matter what party holds the reins of government, each and every one of us will follow only our conscience. We make a personal pledge to never hesitate about what we write, speak, draw or otherwise create.

Anyone in the world can sign the declaration by sending an email to hanyokusan@gmail.com

Soda and the other organizers of this declaration do ask that anyone signing the declaration use their real name.

So far there are about 1,000 signatories to the declaration, including:

  • Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Tatsuru Uchida
  • Hirokazu Kore-eda
  • Keiko Tsuyama
  • Oriza Hirata
  • Tatsuya Mori
  • Kazuo Hara
  • Mad Amano
  • Koichi Nakano
  • Rika Kayama
  • Shinji Miyadai
  • Setsu Kobayashi
  • Shigeaki Koga
  • Karin Amamiya
  • Hajime Imai
  • Susumu Shimazono
  • Mayumi Taniguchi

A press conference will be held on Monday, February 9, from 5 to 6 p.m. in Room B 104 at the House of Councillors building in Tokyo.

For more information, see: http://hanyokusan.blogspot.jp/2015/02/blog-post.html

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