Japan Journalist Threatened Over WWII Stories Files Lawsuit

A Japanese journalist whose employer received bomb threats over his reporting about the country’s wartime past, said today he was suing a magazine and a university professor over allegations he faked stories.

Takashi Uemura, a former reporter for the Asahi newspaper, has been attacked as a “fabricator” and “traitor” since he wrote two articles in 1991 about women trafficked to Japanese military brothels across Asia during World War II. The Asahi in August declared some of its coverage of the “comfort women” issue to be erroneous and acknowledged confusion, although not deliberate distortion of facts, in one of Uemura’s stories.

“There is a movement in Japan to stop people who want to shine a light on the dark side of history, on the parts of the war that people don’t want to mention,” he told reporters in Tokyo today.

The issue is one of the most painful in the fraught relationship between Japan and South Korea, which have not held a bilateral summit since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December 2012.

Historians say anywhere from 20,000 to 410,000 women, many of them Korean, served in the Imperial Army’s brothels as it invaded large swaths of Asia during the first half of the 20th century. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono apologized to the women in 1993 and Japan offered compensation, which was refused by some victims in South Korea.

Debate rages in Japan about whether the women were forced into sexual servitude, or were willingly working as prostitutes.

‘Traitor’

Uemura left journalism and works at Hokusei University in Hokkaido, which decided last month to renew his annual contract, despite a series of threats, including one to “blow up” the university if it did not fire him.

An offer of a job at another university was rescinded after a flood of protests and Uemura frequently receives threatening letters and phone calls, he said. He showed reporters a postcard calling him a traitor.

“I am not anti-Japan,” Uemura said. “I want Japan to become the kind of country that’s really respected as a friend by the rest of Asia. In that sense, I believe I am a patriot.”

Uemura’s family has also come under attack, with pictures of his high-school student daughter published on the Internet, alongside a message saying she should be forced to commit suicide, he said. While many reporters have written about the comfort-woman issue, he said he may have been singled out for attack partly because he was one of the first to do so and because he is married to a South Korean citizen.

Uemura filed a lawsuit against the Bungei Shunju Company and university professor Tsutomu Nishioka today for defamation, seeking the withdrawal of an essay from the Internet, an apology and damages, his lawyer Hajime Kambara said. The publishing company did not respond to a phone call seeking comment. A member of the administrative staff at Tokyo Christian University where Nishioka works said no one was available for comment.

Abe said in September the Asahi’s reporting had damaged Japan’s honor and urged the paper to quash stories saying Korean women had been kidnapped from their homes. The threats against Hokusei University were condemned by Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura in December, as well as in editorials in Japan’s national newspapers.

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