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The Justice Ministry has protested against an article run by the Yomiuri Shimbun on Thursday that said the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau is recommending that a former North Korean agent be granted refugee status, according to ministry officials.

The ministry has sent a letter of protest to the major daily’s managing editor in the name of Immigration Bureau chief Nobuya Masuda, saying the article “goes against the facts” and demanding a correction and an apology, the officials said.

In response to the ministry’s move, Yukio Edano, policy chief of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, issued a statement expressing his objection to what he described as the ministry’s overreaction to the article.

“If the part about refugee recognition being highly likely is false, then it is a problem involving (the Yomiuri’s) outlook as a news organization and not something that would lead to calls for a correction or an apology,” Edano said.

“I can say this is obvious proof of the Justice Ministry’s lack of consideration over freedom of expression,” he said.

The ministry said in its letter it is “extremely regrettable that an article of speculation, which goes against the facts and gives readers the wrong impression, has appeared” in the paper.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported in its Thursday morning editions that the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau has compiled a report recommending that the man, who uses the Japanese name Kenki Aoyama, be given refugee status.

The paper said the chances are high that the man will become the first North Korean acknowledged by Japan as a refugee.

Aoyama was one of tens of thousands of Korean residents of Japan who moved to North Korea under a joint Japan-North Korea repatriation program in 1960. He later fled to China and returned to Japan in 1999.

Aoyama is a leader of an 18-strong group of escapees from North Korea in Japan and has sought refugee status and support from the Japanese government for members of the group.

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