The censorship action taken by police last month at an Aichi museum showing photos of a photographer’s genitals constitutes a human rights violation and highlights the nation’s shift toward a more controlling society, the artist said Thursday.

At the center of the controversy is Ryudai Takano, whose photographs of him posing naked with male and female models prompted the police on Aug. 11 to request that they be removed from the ongoing show at the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art.

The police judged that 12 of the 50 works in the show, which features works by multiple photographers, are obscene due to their unaltered display of male genitals, and threatened to arrest museum staffers if they refused to act, said museum official Fumiko Nakamura.

Takano and the museum responded by draping a cloth veil over the subjects of the works in question from the waist down, instead of removing the works from the show. Removing or replacing the works would have been tantamount to rendering the censorship demands of police invisible, Takano said.

“By putting a cloth over the pieces, I wanted to leave some traces of the police intervention,” he told The Japan Times.

The police took no issue with this response “as long as the privates are hidden,” Nakamura said.

She stressed that the museum had taken every precaution possible to avoid making visitors uncomfortable. It put up a notice at the entrance warning visitors that nudity was evident in Takano’s photographs and cordoned off the area where his works are displayed. It also told guards stationed nearby to remind visitors that they might be offended by some of the works.

A friend of Takano, photographer Takashi Arai, opened a petition at Change.org urging the police to reverse the request. The petition, signed by 8,544 people, was submitted Monday to the Aichi Prefectural Police, Arai said.

The incident is similar to the controversy involving artist Megumi Igarashi, who was taken into custody in July for sending her fans data that could be used on a 3-D printer to make a model of her vagina.

Her arrest drew a firestorm of criticism, including an online campaign to demand her release. Police promptly set Igarashi free, suggesting her arrest could not be justified.

“I’m fearful that my incident this time and that of (Igarashi) are a harbinger of a much bigger threat on the way — that we’re being pressured by authority into not speaking out,” Takano said.

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