The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed appeals by three peace activists accused of trespassing in a Self-Defense Forces building in order to distribute antiwar fliers, upholding a lower court decision that sentenced them to fines.
''Posting fliers could be seen as an exercise of the right to freedom of expression, but the right is not guaranteed indefinitely,'' Presiding Justice Isao Imai said. ''Necessary and reasonable restraints (of the right) should be authorized for the sake of public welfare.''
At issue in the trial was whether distributing fliers is a form of freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution or constitutes a disruption of civic life.
In the unanimous ruling by the three-judge bench, the top court upheld the Tokyo High Court's decision to impose fines ranging from 100,000 yen to 200,000 yen on the defendants -- Toshiyuki Obora, 50, Sachimi Takada, 34, and Nobuhiro Onishi, 34 -- for trespassing in the SDF residential quarters in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, in 2004 to drop mailboxes fliers opposing the dispatch of SDF troops to Iraq.
''Punishing the expression itself is not in question,'' the ruling said. The issue at stake ''is the legitimacy of imposing a punishment for trespassing in other people's residence in pursuit of freedom of expression.''
The ruling also said that entering the housing facility for SDF members and their families was ''nothing short of a disruption of (their) private and peaceful lives.''
Speaking at a press conference after the ruling, lawyer Hirotatsu Kojima, who represented the defendants, said, ''The ruling will have a strong bearing on the posting activities of other civic or political groups.''
''It is the same as depriving us of one means to pursue our antiwar campaign activities,'' Obora said at the same press conference, while Onishi said, ''Japanese democracy is facing a crisis.''
Meanwhile, Haruo Kasama, an assistant prosecutor at the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, said in a statement, ''The court made a reasonable decision, as the disruption of other people's peaceful lives is unacceptable even under the name of free expression.''
The Tokyo District Court acquitted the three in December 2004 on the grounds that posting fliers is a form of political expression guaranteed under the Constitution. While noting that entering the residential facility without authorization could be interpreted as an intrusion, the court said their action caused little real disruption to residents' lives.
In December 2005, however, the Tokyo High Court overturned the decision, ruling that while freedom of expression should be respected, people are not allowed to infringe on the rights of others for that purpose.
The high court also said that the defendants had repeatedly entered the premises despite complaints from residents and signs forbidding trespassing, and imposed fines ranging from 100,000 yen to 200,000 yen.