National

Former Asahi reporter files libel suit over 'comfort women' issue

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Bashed and threatened for months by right-wingers and history revisionists, a former Asahi Shimbun reporter made a rare appearance in Tokyo Friday to file a libel suit against a major publisher and a noted scholar of Korean studies.

Takashi Uemura is seeking ¥16.5 million in damages from Bungeishunju Ltd. and Tsutomu Nishioka, a professor of Korean studies at Tokyo Christian University, saying they erroneously claimed he fabricated stories about “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the thousands of women who were forced into Japan’s wartime military brothels

At a news conference, Uemura said their “unfounded slander” prompted some anonymous nationalists to threaten his employer, and violated the privacy of his family by posting a photo of his daughter on the Internet.

“I filed the libel suit in the Tokyo District Court to defend the human rights of me, my family and friends of my family as well as the safety of my employer, Hokusei Gakuen University” in Sapporo, Uemura said at the news conference, held in district court.

Uemura became in 1991 the first reporter to write about the first South Korean woman to come out under her real name and acknowledge she had been a comfort woman.

In its Feb. 6 edition last year, Bungeishunju’s weekly magazine, Shukan Bunshun, quoted Nishioka as saying that Uemura “fabricated a story” that the woman in question was “forcibly taken” to a military brothel as a member of the Teishin-tai (Volunteer Corps).

Nishioka was quoted in the article as saying that the Teishin-tai was in fact organized by Japanese authorities to have women work in factories, not military brothels, so “it is not too much to say (that the article by Uemura) is a fabricated story.”

According to Uemura, at that time former comfort women in South Korea were generally described as former-Teishin-tai members, and all major Japanese media outlets used that term.

Uemura said that in his article, he wrote that the woman in question was “tricked into becoming a comfort women,” not that she was violently kidnapped by Japanese authorities, as Nishioka stated.

The Shukan Bunshun article prompted many anonymous people to threaten Kobe Shoin Women’s University, which was set to hire Uemura as a professor.

He said the school urged him to voluntarily cancel the employment contract, and he eventually agreed.

Uemura was later hired by Hokusei Gakuen University as a lecturer. The Sapporo-based university also received numerous anonymous threats urging that Uemura be fired.

In a faxed statement, Bungeishunju said it has “full confidence in its report.” A comment from Nishioka was not immediately available.

Uemura has been a target of history revisionists and right-wingers who try to play down Japan’s responsibilities for the suffering of the comfort women. Many of them claim Uemura wrote his articles because his wife is a South Korean whose mother was a member of an association of South Korean war victims.

But Uemura countered that he was covering comfort women issues as an Asahi reporter before he met his future wife in South Korea, and that his mother-in-law knew nothing of the comfort woman in question until his story was published.

“People are criticizing me because I’m the first person to bring the existence of comfort women to light before (these women) came out in public” and used their real names, Uemura said.

Some erroneous reports on the comfort women and the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have rocked Asahi, which is generally considered a liberal daily. Former President Tadakazu Kimura stepped down last month.

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