A head of the news section at a regional newspaper has been punished with unpaid, indefinite suspension after slandering a lawyer and other people on a social network service website, the newspaper revealed Friday.

Hideki Sakamoto, a 53-year-old former news department chief of Niigata Nippo’s Joetsu branch, was removed from his post and punished for publishing abusive messages on Twitter against Akira Takashima, a Niigata attorney who represented Minamata disease victims and their families in the prefecture.

The disease, which affects the nervous system, is caused by mercury poisoning.

The two exchanged a number of tweets last Friday, when Sakamoto slandered the attorney under a pseudonym by saying he should “quit being an attorney and become a professional baldie” — apparently in reference to Takashima’s receding hairline.

Sakamoto expressed pity for Minamata disease victims, and said that Takashima is a net uyoku (Internet rightist) with links to extreme nationalists.

Later, when Takashima had learned that the abusive messages were sent by the newspaper’s editor, Sakamoto toned down his aggressive stance and posted a tweet to apologize for the “abusive insults,” as requested by the lawyer.

In the tweet, the editor explained he was drunk at the time he tweeted the abusive messages and was furious over the attorney’s past messages to him.

Takashima said on his Twitter account that Sakamoto and his boss visited him Tuesday to apologize in person.

By Friday, the former editor had deleted most of the tweets from his @sadmaz6 account, except for messages to apologize “to all people who had suffered from my abusive tweets and slandering.”

He also pledged never to use Twitter again.

Some Twitter users posted screenshots, allegedly showing some of Sakamoto’s past tweets, and claimed he had slandered a mother with a small child by saying: “I would feed your child to pigs!” In another screenshot, Sakamoto sent a message to the same user that read: “My short-term goal is to pressure you into your killing yourself.”

According to Niigata Nippo’s investigation, Sakamoto created the Twitter account in March 2011 without asking for company permission.

It also said the former editor had repeatedly posted abusive messages since 2013 using “extremely degrading expressions” that led to discrimination and human rights infringements.

Sakamoto is believed to be a member of an anti-nationalist protest group, and has slandered people he considered be his ideological opponents.

On his Twitter profile, Sakamoto clearly stated he was against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and believes the Liberal Democratic Party is an enemy of democracy.

Minoru Kuwayama, Niigata Nippo’s chief administrative officer, said on the website that the company will establish clear guidelines for using social network services and reinforce education for all staff members.

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