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The editors of two Okinawa newspapers on Thursday said freedom of the press and even democracy itself may be at stake after recent verbal attacks on their work and on that of other media by Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers.

“Seeing these remarks, I can’t help but worry that this nation will abandon democracy and inch closer toward a totalitarian state,” said Yoshikazu Shiohira, editor in chief of the Ryukyu Shimpo.

At a June 25 gathering of around 40 junior Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, guest speaker Naoki Hyakuta, a novelist and former NHK governor, reportedly said local newspapers in Okinawa that are critical of the government should be closed.

“The two Okinawan newspapers must be destroyed. I believe if some of the islands in Okinawa (Prefecture) were to be invaded by China, although such a thing should not happen, they will awaken from their sleep,” Hyakuya was quoted as saying.

Kazuhiko Taketomi, editor in chief of the Okinawa Times, expressed strong indignation over Hyakuta’s reported remarks.

“What they are saying is, newspapers should only be allowed to report what matches the government’s position,” Taketomi told journalists at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. “These are absurd remarks that deny the freedom of expression and press, which is the foundation of democracy.”

Shiohira echoed Taketomi’s words, saying the remarks at the LDP gathering were irresponsible and thus inexcusable.

“I feel the country’s democracy, the freedom of expression and the freedom of press are in danger,” Shiohira said.

Participants in the LDP gathering criticized media organizations for criticizing the security legislation currently being deliberated in the Diet, with one lawmaker reportedly saying an effective way to “punish those media is to take away their ad revenues.”

The lawmaker also reportedly urged intellectuals to pressure the Keidanren business lobby to stop sponsoring critical media organizations.

Shiohira said these remarks represent the very idea of suppression of free speech.

Taketomi of the Okinawa Times said the LDP lawmakers involved believe at heart that news organizations should not report subjects that make them uncomfortable, and that there should be no freedom of expression and freedom of press.

“The thought might be directed at all media at some stage in the future, not just at the two Okinawa newspapers,” Taketomi warned.

Ryukyu Shimpo’s Shiohira said Abe should apologize as the president of the LDP. It would be the “responsible” thing to do, to find out what went on and take to task those who made the remarks if he finds them problematic, Shiohira said.

Meanwhile, FCCJ President James Simms said Thursday in a statement that the group is deeply concerned by the lawmakers’ remarks concerning freedom of the press.

“We urge the ruling party and the government to refrain from actions that can — or could appear to — affect the freedom of the press and to better educate its lawmakers and officials over the vital and constitutionally guaranteed role that a free press provides in Japan,” Simms said.

The LDP meeting was organized by Minoru Kihara, a 45-year-old Lower House member. On Saturday, LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki announced that Kihara was sacked as head of the LDP’s Youth Division and will be suspended from holding any other post for a year.