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Two universities, one in Osaka Prefecture and the other in Sapporo, have received letters not only demanding the dismissal of two former Asahi Shimbun reporters teaching at the schools but also threatening to plant explosives on their campuses if the two are not fired.

The two former reporters had been involved in reporting on those Korean women referred to as “comfort women” — who were forced into sexual servitude for the Imperial Japanese armed forces. In addition to its threat of violence, this vicious attempt at intimidation poses a danger to freedom of speech and academic freedom.

Tezukayama Gakuin University in Osakasayama, Osaka Prefecture, received letters on Sept. 13 demanding that it dismiss a professor who, while working as a journalist for the Asahi, wrote articles reporting on now-deceased writer Seiji Yoshida, who claimed to have worked for a labor recruitment organization in Yamaguchi Prefecture during the war and stated that he rounded up Korean women on Jeju Island of Korea to force them to serve as comfort women.

The Asahi on Aug. 5 retracted a series of 16 articles about Yoshida published from 1982 to 1997 on the grounds that his statements were false. Tadakazu Kimura, president of the newspaper, apologized for the reporting on Sept. 11. The letters said that unless the university fired the professor, a bomb containing nails would be set off on campus. The 67-year-old professor tendered his resignation the day the letters arrived.

Although the Asahi on Aug. 5 said the professor was the first reporter to report on Yoshida’s statement, the newspaper published a correction on Sept. 29, saying he was not the first to do so although he wrote several article about Yoshida.

Similar threats were sent to Hokusei Gakuen University in Sapporo on May 29 and July 28, demanding the dismissal of a part-time lecturer at the university who was also formerly an Asahi reporter, and threatening to explode a gas container with nails in it.

The former reporter in August 1991 reported on testimony by a former Korean comfort woman, the first newspaper report of its kind. Even before the arrival of the threatening letters, the university had received telephone calls and email demanding his dismissal. There were also street activities against the university including the distribution of flyers. Some websites even disclosed the lecturer’s name, address and phone number as well as information about his family, including his daughter’s name and photograph, and made additional threats.

It is unfortunate that the Asahi published erroneous reports over a lengthy period of time, and regrettable that it took so long for it to retract them and make apologies. But such threats are contemptible and unpardonable not only because they pose a threat to people, but because the intolerance they promote endangers the foundation of democratic society.

In this connection, the bashing of the Asahi Shimbun by some members of the media — using such words as “a traitor to the (Japanese) state” and “anti-Japanese” — is extremely problematic because it contributes to stirring up intolerance in Japanese society. When people encounter media reports that they don’t like or don’t agree with, they should rely on rational speech to counter them. Citizens should stand up against any moves that aim to foment intolerance of different opinions and views.

The police, for their part, should leave no stone unturned in finding those responsible for the threatening letters.

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