National / Crime & Legal

Former Asahi Shimbun reporter says threats against him are getting worse

by Tai Kawabata

Staff Writer

A former Asahi Shimbun reporter who has sustained a spate of personal attacks relating to his coverage of so-called “comfort women” years ago says the threats against him are growing worse.

Takashi Uemura said the assault against him and Hokusei Gakuen University in Sapporo, where he works as a lecturer, has escalated to the point that even his 17-year-old daughter, whose mother is a South Korean, is facing death threats.

A threatening letter the president of the university received in early February read: “I will kill his (Uemura’s) daughter without fail. I will kill her no matter how many years might take. I will kill her at any cost.”

“What is happening grieves me,” Uemura said. “My article appeared 24 years ago. My daughter is 17 years old. She has nothing to do with it. She was not even born at that time. . . . Attacks on me, my family and the university show no sign of stopping.”

Uemura filed a ¥16.5 million libel lawsuit in January against Tsutomu Nishioka, a professor at Tokyo Christian University, and Bungeishunju Ltd., the publisher of the weekly Shukan Bunshun. He lodged the suit after the magazine ran an article claiming Uemura had fabricated an Aug. 11, 1991, report on comfort women, a euphemism for those who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.

Uemura was speaking at a news conference after the Tokyo District Court held the first hearing of the case on Monday.

He said that because Nishioka’s criticism of him had gone beyond a reasonable limit, he had no recourse but to go to court.

Nishioka’s writing characterized him as “my enemy who continues to injure the reputation of Japan,” Uemura said.

“Because Mr. Nishioka has identified me as his enemy, the practice of exchanging arguments and counterarguments in the area of free speech does not work any more. So I would like to have cool-headed discussions in court.”

The article in question was based on a tape recording offered by a South Korean group dealing with the issue of Joshi Teishin-tai (Women’s Volunteer Corps). The article reported testimony by the first South Korean woman to come forward and speak about being forced to provide sex to Imperial Japanese Army troops, and was the first report of its kind to be published by a Japanese newspaper.

It was followed by another article published on Dec. 25, 1991, in which Uemura reported on an interview Japanese lawyers conducted with the woman, Kim Hak-sun, in South Korea.

Shukan Bunshun’s Feb. 6 edition last year quoted Nishioka as saying Uemura “fabricated a story,” mainly on the grounds that his article said the woman in question was taken to a military brothel as a member of the Joshi Teishin-tai, and that it gave the impression that she was “forcibly taken” there.

Nishioka also alleges that Uemura’s article was aimed at helping his Korean mother-in-law, who is a leader of a group of South Korean war victims.

A third-party committee set up by the Asahi Shimbun concluded in December that the article in question did not distort facts to help his relatives. It, however, said that the article gave the impression that the woman had been “forcibly taken.”

Uemura said the expression “forcibly taken” was not used in the article and that even a competing publication, the Sankei Shimbun, has used the phrase.

“Why am I alone singled out as a target for attack?” Uemura said. “I did not make up my articles.”