Democratic rights or illegal squatting? Court holds first hearing on anti-nuclear tents

May 24, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Anti-nuclear activists blasted the government at the Tokyo District Court on May 23 in the first hearing over the legality of protest tents set up on the grounds of the industry ministry.

The central government has sued the anti-nuclear protesters and demanded that the tents be removed, saying they are illegally squatting on state-owned land. The government also said the tents, facing a sidewalk and a crossing, are obstructing traffic and compromising the safety of pedestrians and motorists.

The defendants, however, argued during the hearing that installing the tents to express their opinions is a legitimate exertion of their democratic rights.

“Our tents express nationwide anger,” one of the defendants, 70-year-old Taro Fuchigami, told the court on May 23. “Somebody else would have erected the tents if we had not done so.”

The two sides are so divided over the issue that legal experts expect the case will reach the Supreme Court.

If the district court sides with the government and includes a provision in its ruling allowing for an injunction to be carried out before the decision becomes final and binding, the government could seek the immediate removal of the tents.

However, the defendants would still have the right to request a suspension of that injunction.

“I initially expected all this would last for only about a week,” said a 66-year-old man who helped install the first tent, which has remained in place for 20 months now.

On Sept. 11, 2011, exactly six months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, protesters calling for an end to nuclear power in Japan formed a “human chain” around the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The 66-year-old man’s group set up a tent to provide a base for the protesters, some of whom had traveled far to join the rallies, including women from Fukushima Prefecture who said the nuclear crisis had devastated their lives. Two more tents were pitched soon after.

In March 2012, weekly protests started outside the prime minister’s office, a short walk from the tent site. The Friday night rallies reached a peak in the summer that year.

The man said his protest group initially rented the tents but later bought them.

“We owe what we are to the many encouragements and expectations we have received,” the man said.

He said his group applied for a land use permit with the industry ministry, but the request was rejected. Two activists who represented the group during the application procedure were named in the lawsuit filed by the government in March.

The decision to demand the removal of the tents came after the change of government in December.

“We have discussed taking legal measures, but have stopped short of making such a decision,” Yukio Edano, who served as industry minister under the previous administration of the Democratic Party of Japan, told a news conference in December.

By contrast, Toshimitsu Motegi, Edano’s successor, was hinting early on about taking a tough stand when he assumed the post under the new administration of the Liberal Democratic Party.

“The squatting poses a serious question,” he said. “We are discussing how to deal with it.”

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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These tents were set up by anti-nuclear protesters at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district. Some passers-by exchanged words with those manning the tents on May 22, when this photo was taken. (Ryujiro Komatsu)

These tents were set up by anti-nuclear protesters at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district. Some passers-by exchanged words with those manning the tents on May 22, when this photo was taken. (Ryujiro Komatsu)

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  • These tents were set up by anti-nuclear protesters at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district. Some passers-by exchanged words with those manning the tents on May 22, when this photo was taken. (Ryujiro Komatsu)

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