Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on the Japanese authorities on Tuesday to prosecute Japanese radicals for desecrating a Russian flag during protests over a territorial dispute between the two countries.
Japanese ultra-right campaigners dragged the Russian flag along the ground outside the Russian Embassy in Tokyo on Monday amid the heating up of a diplomatic row between Russia and Japan over four islands off Russia’s Far Eastern coast, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Kuril Islands in Russia.
“Not only did we protest, but we also asked the Japanese authorities to launch a criminal case over the desecration of the Russian flag,” Lavrov said. “We were told that in Japanese law there is an article that forbids the mockery of foreign state symbols.”
Correct, FM Lavrov! Article 92 of Japan’s Criminal Code is referred to as 外国国章損壊罪 (gaikoku kokusho sonkaizai), or “Foreign National Symbol Damage Crime”). Clause 1 reads: “A person who damages, destroys or sullies a country’s flag or other national symbol, with the intention of insulting that foreign country, shall be punished with up to two years imprisonment and a fine of up to JPY200,000.”
Importantly, this crime is a 親告罪 (shinkokuzai), and requires the formal request of the victim for the prosecutor to proceed. Clause 2 reads: “The crime in the previous clause shall require the request of the foreign government to be prosecuted.” So Russia’s statement is required for the prosecutors to act.
How many such cases have there been? Not surpringsly, very few.
* In July 1956, the Qing Imperial flag was destroyed at an Osaka demonstration. The Osaka Prosecutors ruled that as the flag was private property, the act was not subject to prosecution.
* In May 1958 in Nagasaki, a man desecrated a PRC flag and was fined JPY500 by the police. Both the ROC (the government of which Japan recognized as the government of China at that time) and the PRC (which Japan did not recognize) made formal complaints, and resulted in some commercial contracts between the two countries being terminated.
* After an October 1993 soccer game in Qatar when the opposing Iraqi team tied with a final goal that disqualified Japan from the final rounds (known as the “Doha Tragedy“), Japanese supporters tore down the Iraqi flag at the Iraqi Embassy in Tokyo. The Iraqi embassy response was that the reaction was a “natural expression of patriotism” and they asked that the flag be returned by mail.
Japan is unique in that it only prosecutes desecration of foreign national symbols. There has never been a law prohibiting or punishing the desecration of the Japanese national flag. One reason is that, when the Criminal Code was drafted in Meiji Japan, the Emperor was soveign, and crimes against the emperor were the crimes against the state. These provisions of the law were cancelled after World War II.