In rare move, court suspends publication of best-seller on Abe-linked conservative lobby group

Kyodo, Staff Report

A Tokyo court has ordered a publisher to suspend publication of a best-selling nonfiction book detailing links between the conservative Japan Conference (Nippon Kaigi) lobby and a religious group, saying it contains defamatory information.

Published last year, “Nippon Kaigi no Kenkyu” (“A Study on the Japan Conference,”) written in Japanese by Tamotsu Sugano, claims the lobby has influence on the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and criticizes his administration’s drive to revise the war-renouncing Constitution.

The decision Friday by the Tokyo District Court came after a man in his 70s who is mentioned in the book sued for libel and demanded that Fusosha Publishing Inc. suspend sales.

The court issued an injunction against publication and sales of the book, saying it contains some misinformation and significantly damages his reputation.

However, Sugano said he was “relieved” by the decision because the judges rejected five of the six requests from the plaintiff to correct or delete certain parts of the book.

“Almost all of the requests have been totally rejected. I am relieved from the perspective of freedom of speech,” Sugano told The Japan Times by email.

On the other hand, “it’s extremely regrettable that the correction or deletion of one point is sought. I’d like decide how we will respond after consulting with the publisher,” Sugano said.

In the ruling, Judge Nobuyuki Seki said the book contains a false description of the man, who used to be a senior member of a religious group, regarding his missionary work, and that the author did not interview him.

The judge concluded the book cannot be published unless it removes the description, saying the man’s social reputation would sustain damage to a level that would be difficult to restore if the book continues to be sold as is.

It is rare for a court to suspend publication of a best-seller in Japan. The book has sold around 153,000 copies since its release last spring.

In the book, Sugano asserted that Iwao Ando, a former senior member of religious group Seicho-no-Ie, is a leader in the postwar right-wing movement. Among the followers of the man are key members of Japan Conference, the country’s largest nationalist lobby group, according to Sugano.

In the book’s sixth chapter, Sugano wrote that Ando led an effort to sell a Seicho-no-Ie magazine in 1970s. Some members of the religious group borrowed money from loan sharks to buy copies of the magazine, leading to them being harassed, deep in debt and to their eventual suicides, Sugano wrote.

He wrote that Ando “turned a deaf ear” to news of the suicides. The court determined that this phrase was defamatory since Sugano did not interview the man in question and had no objective evidence to back up the allegation, Sugano said.

Seicho-no-Ie was founded in 1930 by the late Masaharu Taniguchi, who supported the postwar right-wing movement by arguing that Japan should revive its prewar Constitution centered on the Emperor.

Seicho-no-Ie has severed ties with any nationalistic movements and has even criticized Abe and Nippon Kaigi for trying to revise the postwar Constitution.

The publisher can file an objection to the court and suspend the injunction, and its lawyer said it is considering such a measure.