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In March 2009, a group of citizens filed a lawsuit demanding that the state disclose three diplomatic documents related to the 1972 reversion of Okinawa from U.S. to Japanese rule. The government had turned down a September 2008 request based on the Freedom Information Law to disclose the documents saying that there was no evidence that the documents exist or that they had been destroyed or transferred. But the United States already disclosed the documents in 2000 and 2002.

The documents concern Tokyo’s financial concessions to Washington over Okinawa’s reversion: $200 million mainly for the transfer of U.S. military bases, $65 million for maintaining and improving the conditions of U.S. military bases and secret payments making up $4 million in costs to convert U.S. military areas back to farmland.

Mr. Takichi Nishiyama, an ex-Mainichi Shimbun reporter who had obtained a photocopy of the document linked to the secret $4 million payments, is among the plaintiffs. He had been convicted of violating the National Public Service Law for persuading a Foreign Ministry worker to bring him classified information.

The government told the Tokyo District Court that the documents do not exist. It also explained that documents made in the course of negotiations can be destroyed once a final agreement is made. However, it has not made clear whether the documents ever existed and whether Foreign Ministry reports to the Finance Ministry concerning the secret payments do or do not exist.

The government is in a tight spot. It was called on by the court to comment on the documents disclosed by the U.S. The plaintiffs were also urged to bring to court Mr. Bunroku Yoshino, who, as director general of the Foreign Ministry’s American Bureau, was in charge of the reversion negotiations. During the trial of Mr. Nishiyama, Mr. Yoshino denied the existence of a secret $4 million payment pact. But during media interviews in February 2006, he admitted its existence. One wonders what possible rational reason could there be to disrespect the public’s right to know by keeping these three documents secret for nearly four decades. The government should disclose them.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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