EDITORIAL: Asahi renews his vow to protect freedom of speech on the anniversary of the attack

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Hiroaki Taniguchi will visit Asahi Shimbun’s Hanshin office in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture on May 3, as he did last year.

Taniguchi, 51, is the director of the Nishinomiya Municipality Mayor’s Office. He is also an accomplished pianist, having won prizes in competitions both at home and abroad.

On May 3, 1987, a masked gunman stormed the office and opened fire with a shotgun, killing 29-year-old Asahi Shimbun reporter Tomohiro Kojiri and seriously injuring a colleague, Hyoe Inukai. The latter died in 2018 for other reasons.

A group calling themselves “Sekihotai” claimed responsibility for the attack and issued a statement accusing The Asahi Shimbun of having a “han-nichi” (anti-Japanese) editorial bias.

“I want to know more about the attempt to violently suppress freedom of expression that took place near City Hall,” Taniguchi said.

As a musician, Taniguchi has spoken out on public forums for many years, although his job is different from that of a reporter.

By 2003, the statute of limitations on the series of attacks against The Asahi Shimbun alleged by the obscure group had expired.

His despicable acts aimed at silencing freedom of speech and expression can never be forgiven no matter how much time passes.

The current global perspective reinforces our feeling that this view needs to be shared with people around the world.

In Russia, now embroiled in military aggression against Ukraine, the government is tightening its control over the media to block news critical of the Kremlin. A law was passed that allows the government to impose a maximum of 15 years in prison for spreading “fake news”.

In Hong Kong, a newspaper known for its critical stance on the Chinese government has been forced to close under a controversial national security law enforced by Beijing.

In Myanmar, which is under military rule, freedom of expression is similarly repressed.

In the case of Russia, it is important to note that the government began cracking down on free speech before the war started and the state of emergency was declared. The fact is that freedom of expression has been gradually curtailed in order to create an environment conducive to the invasion of a neighboring country.

This underscores the importance of remaining vigilant against abuses of power by the authorities and speaking out when questionable actions are taking place.

To remain silent in the face of attacks on free speech, to rationalize them or dismiss them as someone else’s problem risks pushing society past the point of no return. This is an important lesson of history.

Japan is by no means immune to this risk.

Three years ago, two protesters were removed and harassed by police officers while harassing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while he was stumbling around Sapporo on behalf of a ruling Liberal Democratic Party candidate running in the upper house election.

In March, the Sapporo District Court ordered the Hokkaido authorities to pay compensation to the two residents who had filed separate lawsuits, ruling that the authorities had violated the plaintiffs’ basic human rights.

The court decision reiterated that freedom of expression is a fundamental right that lies at the heart of democracy. It also served as a warning against excessive police behavior.

The trial likely made many Japanese aware of the need to keep society healthy by responding to any incident that might threaten freedom of expression.

When he claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Asahi Shimbun, Sekihotai said, “The anti-Japanese Asahi must return to what it was 50 years ago.”

Our answer to the question is of course a clear “No”.

We will not allow Japan to return to the dark age of language restrictions. As the war in Ukraine continues, on May 3rd, Constitution Day, we recommit ourselves to freedom of expression.

–The Asahi Shimbun, May 2nd

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