A fired Tokyo elementary school teacher was given a suspended 2 1/2-year prison term and ordered placed under supervision Thursday for the unauthorized posting of photos of five children who died in traffic accidents on his Web site and e-mailing child pornographic materials.
Although Toshio Watanabe, 34, was only charged with copyright violations and with circulating child-pornography materials, the case has caught public attention because it cast light on growing public misgivings over elementary school education, centering on whether such a person should ever be allowed to teach.
Watanabe was fired in March from Shorin Elementary School in a western Tokyo suburb after posting the photos on his Web site Club Kids.
The posted photos were taken before the traffic accidents, not the photos of them in the accidents, which occurred in September and October 2005. The children were not Watanabe’s pupils. He had collected the photos via the Internet and posted them on his Web page.
The Tokyo District Court concluded that such an act inflicted serious psychological damage on the parents of the deceased children.
He was convicted of violating the copyright law by posting those photos without consent from the parents of the children and of violating the law against child prostitution and pornography by separately e-mailing photos of naked boys to two high school students who accessed his Web site in August 2005.
But his sentence was suspended. Watanabe was given a prison term of two years and six months as demanded by prosecutors, but the sentence was suspended for five years, provided he be placed under supervision.
Presiding Judge Osamu Iguchi called the case a “vicious crime that tramples on the feelings of bereaved families,” and slammed Watanabe’s “unacceptable behavior . . . undermining the trust in teachers involved in child education.”
The judge also said Watanabe posted the photos of the five children along with several other photos of dead children, which he had collected on the Internet. “The fact that he made his Web site look like it mourned the deaths of those children hurt the parents’ feelings even more,” the judge said.
But Iguchi commented on the suspended term under supervision, saying there is a “reasonable” possibility for the defendant to regain control of himself.
The parents of the five children denounced the suspended sentence.
Tadaari Katayama, whose son, Shun, is one of the five, questioned the court’s rationale.
“I wonder if this sentence would ever lead to correcting (Watanabe) because it allows him to live with us in society,” he said. “I will never be convinced by this logic.”
Katayama urged for steps to reinforce surveillance on Internet service providers so their Web pages do not carry improper materials.
Nahoko Kakiuchi, the mother of another child among the five, said: “I’m sure (Watanabe) will buy a new personal computer and start up another Web site again. I wanted a real prison term for him.”
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