OSAKA – The Toyonaka City Library in Osaka Prefecture temporarily restricted access to the Yomiuri Shimbun, which identified a 19-year-old college student suspected of murdering a female classmate last month before killing himself, the city’s board of education said Tuesday.
The Mie Prefectural Library and the Kashiba Municipal Library in Nara Prefecture also put white covers on the articles, which ignored a ban on naming or otherwise identifying minors suspected of committing a crime.
The Japan Library Association based in Tokyo said it is unprecedented for a library to restrict readers’ access to a specific newspaper.
According to the association’s Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries: “Libraries shall not discriminate between materials by erasing text, pulling items from the shelves or removing them from the library without an appropriate reason.”
The suspect, a student at the Tokuyama College of Technology in Shunan, Yamaguchi Prefecture, was sought by police after allegedly strangling Ayumi Nakatani, 20, on Aug. 28 in a college lab. He was found dead last Thursday in a mountainous area some 4 km from the school.
The Yomiuri Shimbun identified the suspect by name and carried his photo in its Friday morning edition.
The same day, the Toyonaka City Library removed the Yomiuri’s Friday morning and evening editions from the shelves at all nine of its branches.
The municipal library placed the Yomiuri’s Saturday morning editions on the shelves but covered the youth’s name in its reports.
The library also put up a notice in its periodicals section stating that it was considering how to handle the Yomiuri editions according to the stipulations of the Juvenile Law, which bars publishers from using the name, age, profession, residence, physical features or photo of a juvenile suspect.
On Sunday, the Toyonaka City Library reversed its decision, giving visitors free access to the newspaper and saying it would respect its judgment.
The library had also restricted access to articles in the Shukan Shincho weekly magazine, which identified the youth by name and carried his photo, by stapling pages together. The weekly’s Sept. 14 edition hit newsstands last Thursday, the day the teenager’s body was found.
Itsuro Tanaka, chief of the education board’s lifelong learning office in Toyonaka, said he cannot say the municipal library’s policy was absolutely correct.
It “resulted in an infringement on citizens’ right to know,” Tanaka said.
Kaname Matsuoka, the Japan Library Association’s secretary general, said the libraries’ acts might lead to censorship.
“Libraries should avoid interpreting the Juvenile Law by themselves,” he said.
Toyonaka is a suburb 10 km northwest of Osaka with 387,000 residents.
The Mie Prefectural Library in Tsu has also covered the suspect’s name and photo in Yomiuri articles since last Friday.
The Kashiba Municipal Library in Kashiba, Nara Prefecture, covered the articles last Friday. Both libraries say they are abiding by the Juvenile Law.
Libraries in Yamaguchi Prefecture did not alter the Yomiuri’s articles.
In Tokyo, the Yomiuri Shimbun accused the libraries of censoring the reports.
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