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Dignity, privacy and the right to know: Mixed feelings on disclosure of Kyoto arson victims' names

JIJI

The release of the names of 10 of the 35 people who died in last month’s arson attack on a Kyoto Animation Co. studio has prompted mixed responses from the public, including concerns over the privacy of grieving families.

Friday’s disclosure by the Kyoto Prefectural Police Department came more than two weeks after the targeting of the renowned Japanese anime company’s No. 1 studio in the city of Kyoto on July 18.

In principle, the names of victims of accidents or crimes are disclosed by Kyoto police authorities. The police department handled the arson case with particular care, though, because of the level of shock around the tragic incident, including among relatives of the deceased.

Police authorities have limited the release of victims’s names to those whose funerals have already been held and whose relatives have agreed to the disclosure, after carefully confirming the preferences of the bereaved.

The police plan to continue supporting relatives of the other 25 victims with care.

However, the animation company, also known as KyoAni, has asked the police not to release the victims’ names. Many bereaved relatives also want the names of their deceased loved ones to be kept from the public eye. On social media, many people have posted messages calling for “the feelings of bereaved relatives to be put first” and to “leave them alone” and protect their privacy.

On the other hand, one online poster said “disclosure is necessary, because there are many fans who remain concerned over the fate of” each of the studio’s staff members.

“I don’t necessarily want to know the names of the victims,” a 30-year-old woman from Yokohama, who visited the arson-hit studio to lay flowers, said. “But by knowing the names of the deceased, I realized that it’s real,” added the woman, who works as a nurse.

“Disclosure would be OK if bereaved relatives have given their consent,” said a woman accompanying her daughter, a high school student who aims to become an animator, to leave a floral tribute. The woman said: “If my daughter dies and her death remains unknown (to everyone), I would not like it. I would want her name to be disclosed and want people not to forget her name and her work.”

Former Sophia University professor Yasuhiko Tajima went further, saying, “The Kyoto Police Department should have disclosed the names of the arson victims immediately after they were identified.

“Keeping victims’ names undisclosed could constitute a barrier to efforts to uncover the truth” of an accident or crime, he pointed out.

“In serious cases, the names of victims should be released in principle, although being considerate of bereaved relatives’ feelings is of course important,” Tajima said, although he acknowledged there were problems with some media organizations’ approaches to covering the news, such as reporters flocking around people who are grieving and bombarding them with questions.

In contrast, lawyer Masato Takahashi, an expert on supporting victims of crime, expressed strong opposition to such disclosures. “Why would bereaved relatives who are in distress as a result of outrageous crimes have to face more pain because of people’s ‘right to know?'”

“Not only dignity and privacy but also the right to maintain tranquility in private life, undisturbed, are important,” he said, adding, “The wishes of bereaved relatives should be respected as much as possible.”