May 30, 2006

ODD NEWS : Retired teacher found guilty over urging parents to remain seated during anthem

TOKYO — A retired high school teacher was found guilty Tuesday of disturbing a graduation ceremony in 2004 by urging parents to remain seated when those in attendance sang the "Kimigayo" national anthem.

The Tokyo District Court fined Katsuhisa Fujita 200,000 yen, ruling he told parents before the ceremony at the Tokyo metropolitan government-run Itabashi High School on March 11, 2004, that the ceremony was "abnormal" and that teachers "will be punished if they do not stand up and sing Kimigayo."

He also refused to follow the demands of the school supervisors to stop his appeal to participants and leave the gymnasium, where the ceremony was to take place, causing a "tumult" and delaying the start of the ceremony for about two minutes, according to the ruling.

Fujita, 65, taught social science at the school until retiring in March 2002, and was invited to the graduation ceremony as a former faculty member.

His appeal at the graduation ceremony referred to a notice issued by the Tokyo board of education on Oct 23, 2003, requiring metropolitan government-run schools to display Japan's "Hinomaru" flag and sing Kimigayo at school ceremonies.

The notice indicated teachers would be punished if they refuse to show respect for the flag or sing the national anthem. This was criticized as going against the constitutional freedom of thought and conscience.

At the Itabashi High School graduation ceremony, about 90% of the graduates remain seated while Kimigayo was sung.

Fujita's lawyers had argued the accusation against him was aimed at cracking down on his statements opposing the obligatory display of the flag and forced singing of Kimigayo.

But presiding Judge Hitoshi Murase ruled that, "While freedom of speech should be guaranteed, it should not be allowable to disturb someone's businesses."

"The defendant's deeds gave negative impacts on the graduation ceremony, which should have been carried out in a solemn manner," Murase said.

He added, "The defendant did not directly aim to disturb the ceremony and the delay of its start was small," exempting Fujita from serving jail time. Prosecutors had demanded he receive eight months imprisonment.

Fujita immediately appealed the ruling. "If such decision is confirmed, Japan will fall into totalitarianism," he said.

His lawyers issued a statement after the ruling in which they said, "It will impose serious pressure on freedom of speech and expression if an educator is punished by raising voices opposing the education board's policy on Hinomaru and Kimigayo."

Hinomaru and Kimigayo were legally designated, respectively, Japan's official flag and national anthem in 1999.

Fujita's case followed another high-profile case in which three activists were found guilty of trespassing at a Self-Defense Force residential complex in Tokyo in January 2004 to distribute leaflets expressing opposition to the SDF deployment.

Human right activists and legal scholars have viewed that incident as a suppression of free speech, with Amnesty International calling the three "prisoners of conscience."

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