• Kyodo, Staff Report

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Shiori Ito, a prominent figure in the #MeToo movement in Japan, said Thursday her civil court victory in a rape case against a prominent political journalist was “one of the landmark cases for Japanese sex crimes” and that she was still “quite surprised” by the ruling.

Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a journalist said to be close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, denied committing any crime at a separate news conference and repeated his intention to appeal Wednesday’s ruling at the Tokyo District Court.

Both the defendant and plaintiff held back-to-back news conferences at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, with Yamaguchi, the former Washington bureau chief for Tokyo Broadcasting System Television Inc., speaking first. Ito gained entry to Yamaguchi’s news conference as a journalist.

The defendant also denied asking for an intervention in connection with the investigators’ decision to not continue to pursue the 2015 rape case, saying, “I didn’t ask any politician, police officer or bureaucrat to do anything about this case.”

The district court ordered Yamaguchi to pay ¥3.3 million in damages for raping Ito. It recognized he “had sexual intercourse without the consent of Ito, who was in a state of intoxication and unconscious.”

Ito welcomed the ruling as “a positive result.”

“We tried hard and the best as much as we could do, but after we failed with the first criminal case, I thought this would be very hard to win. So I’m still quite surprised today,” she said.

The plaintiff also said she was glad the court recognized that she came forward to disclose the incident for the public interest. The case has drawn global attention, given that victims rarely come forward with allegations of sexual assault in Japan.

Initially Ito withheld her last name when speaking to media about the incident, but in 2017 she decided to disclose her full name and detailed the events in a book titled “Black Box,” pointing to the difficulty of raising the issue in society.

The book, which has been translated into Swedish, French, Chinese and Korean, was given the Best Journalism Award by the Free Press Association of Japan in 2018.

“In Japanese law … even when we speak about truth, you could be prosecuted so this (court recognition) was a very important decision for me as a journalist as well,” she said. Ito filed a criminal complaint with the police after the incident, but prosecutors dropped the case in July 2016, citing insufficient evidence.

Although she does not have concrete evidence, Ito said she believes Yamaguchi’s close ties with Abe, about whom he has written a best-seller, led prosecutors to drop the case, saying she was never given a reason for the decision.

“If this happened to my case, it could happen to any other case, it could be more serious,” she said.

She later filed a complaint with the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, but it also judged in September 2017 that the prosecutors’ decision was “appropriate,” saying there was no reason to overturn it.

During her news conference, Ito said she wanted Yamaguchi to look at himself, and to think together of a solution to the problem of sexual assault.

Yamaguchi said the sexual act was consensual and called Ito a “habitual liar.” He claimed there were discrepancies in her statements and evidence.

Calling the court’s decision “extremely one-sided and biased,” Yamaguchi said he “can’t take it at all.” He also said the judge subjectively rejected almost all of his claims.

On Wednesday, flanked by his lawyer and two supporters, Yamaguchi said the court ruling may have been influenced by “one-sided” reports by domestic and foreign media including The New York Times and the BBC, which he claimed were in favor of Ito.

He said he has no intention of apologizing for a crime he did not commit, but said that it was “inappropriate” of him to have had sex with Ito, who was seeking advice on job opportunities.

The court rejected a countersuit filed by Yamaguchi seeking ¥130 million in compensation from Ito. He claimed his social reputation has been damaged by her remarks.

“The content (Ito had made) public is true and cannot be considered as defamation,” the ruling said.

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