Public outrage over what is widely seen as a pro-apartheid column penned by conservative author Ayako Sono has shown no sign of abating more than a week after its publication.
As of Friday morning, 111 university professors and scholars nationwide had expressed their support for a letter of protest by some members of the Kyoto-based Japan Association for African Studies in which they called for the column to be retracted.
The letter, submitted to Sono and the Sankei Shimbun on Monday, argues that the author’s stance that immigrants should live in segregated communities is tantamount to defending South Africa’s apartheid policies and deserved international condemnation.
“The idea that people should live apart from each other according to their races constitutes the very foundation of apartheid,” the letter says.
Sono’s column represents an “intolerable” affront to efforts made by global society to battle racism, the letter says, adding that the Sankei’s decision to run the piece “damages Japan’s reputation” as a trustworthy member of the international community.
“We therefore demand the column be retracted,” the letter concludes.
For her part, Sono, who is also a former member of an education reform panel to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said in a statement to The Japan Times on Thursday that she has no intention of retracting the column as she believes that doing so would be equal to “forfeiting freedom of expression.”
She also said she never intended to praise the apartheid system.
Instead, Sono said, her intention was to encourage people of different races to live “separately by choice.” In South American cities such as the Peruvian capital of Lima, there are dedicated colonies for Japanese “nikkei” immigrants where both the Japanese language and culture are kept intact, she said.
“Likewise in Japan, there are communities for Brazilian immigrants. These communities sprang up almost spontaneously, but none is actually segregated. People live in such areas if they want, and come in and out of them as they wish,” Sono said. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with such a style of living separately by choice.”
But her Feb. 11 Sankei Shimbun column has nonetheless widely been seen as encouraging apartheid. In it, the 83-year-old writer suggested that while Japan should embrace more foreign immigrants to make up for the labor shortage, they should live apart from mainstream society.
“Since learning about the situation in South Africa 20 or 30 years ago, I’ve come to think that whites, Asians and blacks should live separately,” she wrote.
The Japan chapter of the global human rights organization International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) said in a protest letter Tuesday that her column was “unforgivable.” It runs counter to Japan’s international pledge in 1995 to condemn and eliminate all forms of racism, the group said.
A group of current and former students of Swahili at Osaka University sent a letter to Sono and the Sankei on Wednesday demanding the column’s retraction.
“Ms. Sono says in the column it’s an ‘extremely daunting task’ for immigrants and mainstream residents to live together,” the letter states. “But such an idea is outdated. Even if it requires an effort, in this age of multiculturalism, we need to try to cohabit with others.”