The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court decision to halt the publication of a novella, marking the first time in postwar Japan that the top court has endorsed such an action in a libel suit.
The court also ordered award-winning novelist Miri Yuu and her publisher, Shinchosha Co., to pay 1.3 million yen in damages to a Korean resident of Japan who was the inspiration for one of the novella’s characters.
Presiding Judge Toyozo Ueda said: “The plaintiff has had her pride and privacy violated by the novella’s publication. Halting publication does not violate Section 1 of Article 21 of the Constitution, according to precedents.”
Section 1 guarantees freedom of expression and other rights.
The novella’s publication could do irreparable damage to the woman, Ueda said, adding she is not in a public position.
“I feel truly sad,” Yuu said after the ruling. “I have to say this ruling goes beyond a writer’s problems and will sharply curtail not just the potential of literary works in Japan but also freedom of expression.”
Yuu, 34, is also a Korean resident of Japan.
“My feeling after the ruling is that the day has finally come when I can take a step in my life,” said the woman who sued Yuu and her publisher. “The ruling will never heal my pain completely, but I feel it has given me hope and courage to live anew.”
In June 1999, the Tokyo District Court ordered damages be paid to the woman, ruling, “The work has not taken sufficient care about privacy as it describes facial tumors and the plaintiff’s other characteristics without modification.”
It also ordered that publication of the novella be halted on the grounds that Yuu and her publisher ignored an agreement that it would be modified before hitting the shelves.
In February 2001, the Tokyo High Court determined that descriptions in the novella violated the plaintiff’s privacy but did not recognize the existence of the agreement between the plaintiff and the defendants.
However, it ordered the defendants to stop publishing the novella on the grounds that publication would make it difficult for the plaintiff to lead a normal life.
The defendants appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court, arguing they could not condone the ruling as it showed a lack of understanding of the concept of freedom of expression.
Yuu’s debut novella, “Ishi Ni Oyogu Sakana” (“A Fish Swimming in Stones”), appeared in the monthly magazine Shincho in its September 1994 issue. The story depicted a Korean playwright’s life in Japan.
Yuu won the coveted Akutagawa Prize in 1997 for her book “Family Cinema.” which depicts relations among scattered members of a family who reunite to make a film about themselves.
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