1988-12-14 00:00:00

The president of Japan´s largest news agency, a Catholic, has warned that growing harassment of journalists and their families by rightist groups is eroding the courage of the media.

Shinji Sakai, president of Kyodo News Service, issued the warning Nov. 21 at a monthly meeting of the Japanese Catholic Journalists´ Club in Tokyo.

Sakai told fellow journalists, "Rightist groups are harassing executives of Asahi newspaper by flooding their homes with intimidating telephone calls."

With such tactics, "the mass media and politicians are losing their courage to fight the psychological pressure and harassing tactics being used by the rightist groups," he asserted.

Sakai also criticized decisions by government officials who, citing Emperor Hirohito´s illness, canceled important trips abroad. Such moves, said Sakai, foster an artificial mood of "jishuku" (self-restraint) across the nation.

For example, Foreign Minister Sosuke Uno dropped plans to go to the United Nations General Assembly, and Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa did not attend the annual conference of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

[For other reasons, Miyazawa resigned Nov. 9, forced from office for being directly linked with an insider-trading scandal uncovered six months ago.

[Also implicated in the scandal are close aides of other leaders, such as: Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, and Shintaro Abe, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LPD).]

"Sekihotai," an ultra-nationalist group, sent threatening letters in August to Kyodo News Service and Jiji Press, Japan´s major news services, following a shotgun attack on the unoccupied residence of a businessman who resigned after exposing government leaders involved in the scandal.

The group also threatened businesses which advertise in Asahi, the first to cover the story, or in the Mainichi newspapers.

According to Sakai, the failure of the government and the LPD to clamp down on such rightist threats is making journalists reluctant to report and discuss current and relevant issues for fear of rightists´ violent actions.

Yet the fear is warranted.

On May 3, 1987, a masked man armed with a shotgun stormed Asahi´s bureau in Hyogo prefecture near Osaka and shot to death Asahi reporter Tomohiro Kojiri, 29, and seriously wounded colleague Hyoe Inukai, 42.

Kojiri was known for his scoop two years ago on Hyogo prefecture police who used an arm-brace on Korean Kim Sung Il, 35, and forcibly fingerprinted him.

Kim had been arrested for questioning and had resisted being fingerprinted.

After Kojiri´s story was printed, the Asahi bureau received harassing phone calls, and some of them specifically named Kojiri, according to the newspaper.

A large number of Korean residents, as well as several Catholic missionary priests and resident foreigners have refused to be fingerprinted on grounds that the procedure is discriminatory and violates human rights.

Following Kojiri´s fatal shooting, Kyodo News Service and Jiji Press also received letters which threatened to kill all Asahi employees.

The letters, signed by Sekihotai, declared, "We give death penalties to all Asahi employees...In the 41 years since the end of the war, ´Japaneseness´ and Japanese culture have been denied inside Japan. We will punish anti-Japanese elements and the attack on Asahi was the first step in this move."

According to the Japanese police, the Sekihotai group is responsible for four previous attacks on Asahi.

Asahi and Mainichi have often criticized the official visits by Japanese premiers and cabinet ministers to Yasukuni Shrine, where Class A war criminals and other war dead are enshrined in the Shinto manner as heroic spirits.

Both newspaper bodies have also condemned deletion of Japan´s war atrocities from textbooks and other government moves to shift Japan to the right.


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