Libraries pull book over sensitive content

Kyodo News

Several libraries have suspended access to a book that contains confidential information about a teenager institutionalized for setting his home on fire and killing his stepmother and two siblings.

The move came after prosecutors searched the home of a psychiatrist on Friday on suspicion of leaking investigation testimony to freelance journalist Atsuko Kusanagi, author of the book.

They also raided Kusanagi’s house.

A senior official at the public library in Kahoku, Yamagata Prefecture, said it has decided against allowing the book to be checked out, citing the possibility that its contents were gained through illegal means.

The book, published in May through Kodansha Ltd., includes testimony by the boy, his father and a teacher.

It also describes exchanges in the boy’s closed-door juvenile trial and the contents of the psychological examination report.

Some other libraries in Tochigi and Kyoto prefectures have taken a similar stance, and prefectural libraries in Gifu, Ehime, Fukuoka and Saga may follow suit.

Keiichi Katsura, a lecturer at Rissho University in Tokyo, expressed concern over the move.

“As a library is obliged to contribute to promoting freedom of expression and the public’s right to know, it should not determine a suspension in line with moves by investigative authorities,” he said.

According to a court ruling, the boy, then 16, set fire to his home in Tawaramoto, Nara Prefecture, on June 20, 2006. His stepmother, 38, younger brother, 7, and younger sister, 5, died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Nara Family Court decided in October to send the boy to a reformatory instead of turning him back over to prosecutors for a criminal trial.

The court said “it is not appropriate to hold (the boy) responsible for everything,” noting that his upbringing, such as persistent violence by his father and the absence of his biological mother, played a part in the incident.

The mental examination conducted by the family court found that the boy, who was a first-year high school student at the time of the incident, had developed an attention deficit disorder.

The psychiatrist whose home was searched Friday was in charge of the boy’s mental examination when he was tried at the family court.

He allegedly gave the journalist a copy of the investigative report for the case, which appeared in the book.

People in certain professions, including medicine and the law, can be punished by up to six months in prison or fined up to ¥100,000 if they divulge confidential information obtained in the course of their work.

Investigations are rarely conducted into suspected violations of the confidentiality requirement.

Toshokan Mondai Kenkyukai, a Tokyo-based group of librarians, issued a statement Monday protesting the move by some public libraries.

“(Such an act) runs counter to the role of libraries that guarantee the citizens’ right to know,” the statement says. “It will make citizens stay away from libraries.”

It also calls on other libraries not to restrict access to the book.