A group of 444 lawyers, scholars, journalists and concerned members of the public is calling on a university to stand up to anonymous threats seeking the dismissal of one of its lecturers.

On Monday they launched a support group to defend Takashi Uemura, a former Asahi Shimbun journalist who in the 1990s contributed to the newspaper’s now partly discredited coverage of Japan’s forced recruitment of “comfort women” for military brothels.

Hokusei Gakuen University in Sapporo said it has received numerous emails, phone calls and faxes demanding that it fire Uemura. One of the anonymous messages threatened to detonate a bomb on its campus if the demand was not met.

The Support Hokusei University Group, led by Jiro Yamaguchi, a political science professor at Hosei University in Tokyo, and other academics, argued that the university’s academic freedom and independence must be protected.

In a statement, the group urged the university not to give in to the demands but to leave Uemura in his current position as a lecturer in the field of international exchanges.

The university has said his teaching has nothing to do with the subject matter of the discredited reporting.

“This is a Japanese version of McCarthyism,” Yamaguchi said at a news conference Monday, referring to the hysterical anti-Communist witch hunt rampant in the United States in the 1940s and ’50s.

Setsu Kobayashi, a professor emeritus of constitutional studies at Keio University, called the anonymous campaign “terrorism against speech.”

Critics have accused Uemura of “fabricating” stories about the comfort women under the influence of his mother-in-law, a South Korean who supported lawsuits by the former comfort women.

The Asahi Shimbun has denied that, saying he independently obtained information from other sources.

In recent months, a number of right-leaning newspapers and magazines have slammed the Asahi after it admitted errors in some of its reporting of the comfort women in the 1980s and ’90s, including articles written by Uemura.

Many Japanese-language users of social media such as Twitter and Facebook have joined in the drubbing of the Asahi, accusing it of “damaging” Japan’s reputation.

Observers consider the blackmailers to be extremists riding on the back of the growing anti-Asahi chorus in cyberspace.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.