The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday ordered a journalist to pay 4 million yen in damages to Takeshi Abe, a former vice president of Teikyo University and a hemophilia expert, over a defamation case linked to a scandal involving HIV-tainted blood products.
In overturning a lower court decision, the high court ordered journalist Yoshiko Sakurai to compensate Abe over an article in the April 1994 issue of the monthly magazine Chuo Koron, as well as a book she has written. Abe had demanded 10 million yen in damages.
Representatives for Sakurai said the ruling ignores the pain of those who contracted HIV through the blood products in question and that their client would immediately appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
According to the court, Sakurai wrote that Abe had delayed the launch of experiments using heat-treated blood products on behalf of the now-defunct pharmaceutical manufacturer Green Cross Corp., the supplier of untreated products, and that he had also demanded contributions from major drug firms.
Presiding Judge Satoshi Oto determined that these statements were defamatory.
He stated that “it cannot be said that there was sufficient reason to believe that the writings were the truth or could be believed to be the truth,” as the information obtained by Sakurai from HIV patients was hearsay.
In this regard, the judge also noted that Abe’s response during an interview in which he was taken as admitting that he had adjusted the timing of the launch of the experiments was actually unclear.
Lawyers for Abe said their client was “very pleased” with Wednesday’s decision. They quoted him as saying that he wanted to read the whole ruling as quickly as possible.
They welcomed the court’s ruling that criticism based on inaccurate information could not be legally condoned, stating that this would set a precedent for future libel cases.
Sakurai lashed out against the ruling, which she said “totally denies journalism” and would inhibit news reporting.
“(The ruling) will prevent us from engaging in investigative reporting, requiring us only to write historical facts,” she said. “I feel surprise and strong indignation toward the ruling, which even dismisses the accounts of the very patients as untrustworthy.”
The Tokyo District Court acquitted Abe of professional negligence resulting in death over the AIDS death of a hemophiliac who contracted HIV through untreated blood products. Prosecutors have appealed this decision to the Tokyo High Court.
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