Court: disclose Okinawa papers

by Masami Ito

The Tokyo District Court on Friday ordered the government to disclose diplomatic documents related to the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japan from the United States.

The court also ordered the government to pay ¥100,000 in damages to each of the 25 plaintiffs, conceding that their right to know was damaged by the state’s decision not to disclose the information.

The ruling was a complete victory for the plaintiffs, including academics and journalists, who had argued the three documents they were seeking to be disclosed have already been declassified in the United States, indicating there was a secret agreement between Tokyo and Washington over the financing of Okinawa’s reversion.

The lawsuit was filed in March 2009 after the Foreign and Finance ministries refused the demands of 63 people, including the plaintiffs, to disclose the documents on the grounds they did not exist.

At that time, the government was under the control of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Presiding Judge Norihiko Sugihara said that neither ministry conducted a “reasonable and thorough” search for the documents, but added he suspected some files may have actually been destroyed.

“In general, under a government that is concealing the existence of secret pacts from the public, the secrecy of the documents . . . is absolute and it cannot be said there is no suspicion the documents have already been destroyed,” he said.

“But the court does not consider it should rule in favor of the defendant as it has not conducted a thorough investigation on the destruction of the documents nor . . . given any concrete statements.”

The judge also ordered the financial payment to the plaintiffs, saying the Foreign Ministry — which when the suit was filed was led by then Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone — “made light of the people’s right to know.”

“The foreign minister refused to change his stance by denying the existence of the secret pacts and the recorded documents and handed down (a rejection) without taking measures normally necessary in confirming the existence of the documents, betraying the expectations of the plaintiffs,” Sugihara ruled.

“I cannot help but say that the Foreign Ministry was insincere, making light of the people’s right to know, and it is not difficult to imagine the emotions that the plaintiffs felt, including disappointment, discouragement and anger.”

Plaintiff Takichi Nishiyama, 78, applauded the ruling. He had been convicted of being involved in leaking government documents on the secret pact on Okinawa’s reversion.