The Tokyo District Court on Thursday dismissed two lawsuits filed by a conservative group claiming that “comfort women” articles published decades ago by The Asahi Shimbun and retracted in 2014 damaged their reputation as Japanese nationals.
Presiding Judge Hiroto Waki ruled the articles were written about the Imperial Army and Japanese militarism, so therefore did not directly harm the reputation of the plaintiffs.
The lawsuits were filed against the nation’s leading liberal daily by a group led by Sophia University professor emeritus Shoichi Watanabe, with many, including researchers, lawmakers and journalists joining the suits. There were about 25,000 plaintiffs in all, according to the group.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Asahi Shimbun published a series of articles quoting Seiji Yoshida, an author who said he had participated in rounding up hundreds of females on Jeju-do Island — now part of South Korea — where they were then forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels.
But in August 2014, after critics pointed out flaws in Yoshida’s claims, the Asahi admitted they found his narratives to be groundless. The newspaper later withdrew 18 stories detailing his accounts.
The plaintiffs had demanded that the Asahi pay each ¥10,000 in compensation, claiming the newspaper had “significantly hurt the international reputation of Japan and Japanese nationals, infringing on their personal rights and damaging their honor.”
They also demanded the company run a formal apology in its paper.
For its part, The Asahi Shimbun claimed that the events the articles were reporting on took place over 70 years ago so could not have damaged the reputations of the plaintiffs, according to media reports.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Katsuhiko Takaike, denounced the court’s decision, calling it “heartless.”
While admitting the ruling was logical based on current legal precedent, “there are Japanese people living overseas who have been bullied because of the articles … The ruling should have taken these people into account,” he said Thursday after the ruling.
During the trial, professor Watanabe backed up the claim that Japanese living overseas were shamed and subjected to prejudice as a result of the Asahi articles, citing his own daughter’s experience of living in Switzerland as an example.
A famed conservative critic, Watanabe claims there is no evidence the Japanese military forced large numbers of women into sexual slavery.
He also denies the 1937 Nanking Massacre took place.
In February, Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama told a U.N. panel there is no documented evidence confirming that Japanese military or government authorities forced “comfort women” to serve in military brothels, noting that the Asahi articles were retracted and were based on false accounts.