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The Tokyo District Court on April 9 determined that Japan and the United States had secret pacts over the 1972 reversion of Okinawa and ordered the state to disclose related diplomatic documents. Twenty-five journalists and academics had filed a lawsuit calling for the disclosure in March 2009 when Mr. Hirofumi Nakasone of the Liberal Democratic Party was foreign minister.

The court said the Foreign Ministry, which had insisted that that the documents did not exist, was insincere and neglected people’s right to know. It thus awarded ¥100,000 in damages to each plaintiff. It is significant that the court clearly upheld the people’s right to know and severely criticized the government and bureaucrats for concealing the existence of important policy-related documents.

At issue in the trial were diplomatic documents related to the following three points: $4 million paid by Japan to restore land used for military purposes to its original state; $16 million paid by Japan to move a Voice of America relay station abroad; and Japan’s financial obligations above the publicly acknowledged $320 million.

On the basis of documents declassified in the U.S. and a testimony by Mr. Bunroku Yoshino, former director of the Foreign Ministry’s American Bureau, the court determined that secret pacts and related documents existed. It strongly criticized the foreign minister for taking the stance that the documents did not exist without carrying out proper investigation. It even said he should have questioned former high-ranking officials connected to the matter about how the documents were handled and where they went.

The court also lightened the burden of citizens who rely on the Freedom of Information Law. It said that if they can show that government officials at one point created and possessed documents, it can be automatically inferred that the documents still exist.

The government must change its attitude and regard public documents as the people’s property and make it easy for them to use the Freedom of Information Law. Government officials also should be required to provide concrete evidence to back up their assertions when they insist that requested documents do not exist.

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