Court partly overturns damages for hecklers removed from Abe speech

by Jun 22, 2023Featured Article, News

The Sapporo High Court on Thursday partially overturned a lower court ruling for the Hokkaido government to pay two hecklers damages over their removal by police from the site of a 2019 election stump speech by then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The high court rescinded an order by the Sapporo District Court in March 2022 to pay Masae Osugi 330,000 yen, while upholding the lower ruling to award 550,000 yen for Kio Momoi by rejecting an appeal by the prefectural police.

The district court had ordered damages to both because the police’s actions infringed on the plaintiffs’ freedom of expression as guaranteed under the Constitution.

But the high court said the removal of Osugi, 35, was legal due to reasonable concerns he could be hurt by others in the crowd or pose a threat to Abe.

As for Momoi, 27, it noted that she was already some way away from Abe when she was moved by the police.

Osugi said after the court’s ruling that he is considering filing an appeal to the Supreme Court, while the police said they will examine the details of the ruling and decide their response.

According to the ruling, the plaintiffs shouted “step down, Abe” and “no tax hike” while he spoke in the vicinity of JR Sapporo Station on July 15, 2019, as part of campaigning for the House of Councillors election.

Police officers then surrounded Osugi and Momoi and forced them to move to the back of the crowd. Momoi was then followed by a police officer for an extended time.

Osugi and Momoi filed lawsuits with the district court in December 2019 and February 2020, respectively.

Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, stood down in 2020. He died in July 2022, after he was shot while giving a stump speech in Nara Prefecture for that year’s lower house election.

Osugi told reporters after Thursday’s ruling that it “probably wouldn’t be different if the shooting incident hadn’t happened.”