Home > Japan, News, op-ed > Dictator Japanese mayor bans 20,000 from drinking alcohol without legal authority

Dictator Japanese mayor bans 20,000 from drinking alcohol without legal authority

May 22, 2012

This political cartoon well expresses the sort of ideology behind the sort of prohibition. Source Kaminer, Free Inquiry Magazine

On May 21 the story broke that Soichiro Takashima, mayor of Fukuoka City, had enacted a ban on alcohol for city employees supposedly in response to a few wayward employees who may have engaged in illicit behaviour under the influence of alcohol.

The legality of this has been ignored in virtually all news sources except the Japan Today:

“Legal experts say the mayor’s request is exceptional partly because no law exists to enforce a drinking ban on city employees, meaning public servants cannot legally be disciplined or fired for ignoring the ban.”

At least someone mentioned it. Let that point be reiterated: the mayor has taken it upon himself to add authority not granted under Japanese or international law. That is what dictators usually do, and it is a complicit press that supports such dictators by excusing their actions and focusing on the “extraordinary circumstances” that supposedly justify the removal of liberties i.e. a few people accused of illegal behaviour whist allegedly drinking, which is hardly extraordinary at all. Why is the press not questioning this draconian behaviour on the mayor’s part?

No rational person would argue drunken violence is good, but this rule is not rational. Assuming the four people involved in these incidents  were drunk and guilty of violating the law (numbers change depending on the newspaper), it would still mean that only 0.02% of the 20,000 city workforce were guilty. This problem is statistically insignificant and highly exaggerated by definition. That does not mean alcoholism is not pervasive in Japanese society, just that these “scandals” make a very poor case for the mayor to argue the need to enact a rule he has authority to enforce.

Constitutional?

Prima facie it would appear this “rule” and its enforcement are violation of articles 11, 13, 14 and 15 of the Japanese constitution. The government cannot legally prevent people from enjoying their basic human rights; deciding what to eat or drink is as basic a right as there is. The right to happiness for some includes the right to enjoy alcoholic beverages, does it not? Mayor Takashima has been unable to demonstrate that all the city employees have violated the law – and those roughly 0.02% who are accused must still be proven guilty in court. The mayor has no right to inflict collective punishment period; nor would it be proper to punish  any city employees without due process and a clear legal precedent. The mayor cannot correctly claim that city employees’ behaviour “interfere[s] with public welfare” unless he wants to prejudge a few men before their trial or slander an entire municipal workforce. What evidence is there that the accused men committed a crime? That is for the courts to determine, as it is their job to prove alcohol was involved and decide an appropriate punishment. But the 20,000 city employees?  Why punish them?

Men dumping alcohol during prohibition. This extreme behaviour is the sort of image mayor Taksahima is dredging up with his despotic “rule.” No pun intended.

The mayor’s pretext for the collective punishment of 20,000 innocent people is: “he hoped the shock of the announcement would make employees more aware of the seriousness of recent incidents and of their responsibility to their communities.” In his own words: “It is shock therapy to reform the consciousness of city officials.” The fact the overwhelming majority are law-abiding citizens means they understand their responsibility to the public, since after all they are the ones who do the transactions and business that keep the city going. Why do they need “shock therapy” – torture if done literally, which should cause people to think about what this mayor is saying – when they have not done anything wrong? Is it now a crime to drink if unless one is at a wedding?

Beyond that the rule is illogical because city employees could still hurt others if they drink at their own weddings, which is the exception permitted for alcohol consumption. And what happens after the one month ban is over? What will stop the employees from drinking and hurting others again? If there really is a problem, the way mayor Takashima would have us believe, then he is only preventing the inevitable. He should just ban all city workers from drinking alcohol permanently. Why stop there? If nobody drank alcohol there would be zero violence! Yay, what logic. Prohibition failed in the United States and Afghanistan. But you know, “shock therapy” is an admitted form of torture that might force those wayward Japanese city employees to conform to the Japanese ayatollah Takashima’s new edicts.

Responsibilities

Speaking of “responsibilities” it is mayor Takashima who needs a reminder of his responsibility under the law to his constituents. He can start with Article 15 of the Japanese constitution: “All public officials are servants of the whole community and not of any group thereof.” City employees do not exist to serve mayor Takashima or any group of politicians like they did during WWII. Their job today is to serve the Japanese public when they are at work, hence the term public servants.

Demanding employees do x, y and z outside of work without gives the impression the mayor is using the workers for his own personal reasons. Also the mayor and city government have no legal authority to enact rules of this nature when those people are not at work, and this rule probably violates their work contracts, which raises further questions of labour law. It is one thing to say no alcohol at work, but quite another to ban it off duty. This rule is straight out of the Taliban’s playbook.

Mayor Takashima might want to consider his other responsibility to the people: that of upholding the law. This might come as “shock therapy” to the dictator, but elected officials are sworn to uphold the law, not to invent unjust rules as they go along for whatever cheap political gain they might make. In order to do that the mayor has to understand the Japanese constitution, the Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. A shock indeed.

Why? Because equality under the law is important in any society. Arbitrarily singling out and punishing employees for alleged misconduct (as with the fireman yet to be found guilty they may already be trying to fire), and for the collective punishment of 20,000 innocent city workers who are entitled to equality under the law. At the end of the day they are allowed to drink inside or outside of their homes when they are not at work whether or not this Japanese dictator accepts it.

Mayor Takashima decided to ban alcohol among 20,000 city employees by enacting a rule he has no legal authority to impose or enforce. Source: Reuters.

It remains to be seen how “the city is said to be ‘strictly enforcing’ its no-alcohol policy.” Do the mayor and city officials plan on violating the law themselves? Will the local courts step in to nullify this unconstitutional rule? Or will the mayor abuse his authority and bully the workforce into accepting his demands? Mayor Takashima can always resort to his favourite “shock therapy” and order 80 lashes like the Taliban. Maybe that will stop the drinking problems. And those who get drunk and are not city employees? What about them?

The real question is: Are they city workers going to fight for their rights and demand the mayor and others respect their? This is where organisation and a decent union would help. Ultimately fighting back against this unjust rule is not about alcohol, but about preserving people’s basic rights from being infringed upon by politicians who appear more concerned about cheap political gain than protecting people.

This is an op-ed submitted to Civis Journal and does not necessarily reflect the view of its editors or staff.

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