Japan: Protests against Fukushima water discharge plan, strike by workers while a journalist files a lawsuit
The state of civic space in Japan is rated ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor. While the space for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly is relatively free, restrictions on press freedom, censorship, as well as discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community have been documented. The government has also imposed tougher penalties for criminal defamation.
In July 2023, Japan’s Universal Periodic Review was adopted at the UN Human Rights Council. Among the civic space recommendations it received were: to establish an independent national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles; repeal or revise article 4 of the Broadcast Act, which gives the government the power to regulate the content of public broadcasts; and to pass comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation including protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
In recent months there have been protests in Japan against the Fukushima water discharge plan as well as a strike by department store workers after talks with management over the planned sale of their company broke down. A journalist has filed a freedom of speech lawsuit against a news outlet for silencing his reporting.
Protest against Fukushima water discharge plan
In July 2023, nearly a hundred Japanese people gathered to protest against Japan’s plan to dump nuclear-contaminated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean. Protesters also expressed their concern over the final report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The demonstration on 5th July 2023 was held in front of the headquarters of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Protesters from several local civic groups held placards that read “Do not discharge contaminated water into the sea” and “Do not pollute our oceans”.
The day before the protest, the IAEA published its final comprehensive safety review report on Japan’s plan and said that “the discharges of the treated water would have a negligible radiological impact to people and the environment.” IAEA Director-General Rafael Gross said at a press conference held at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo that “the release of the treated water stored at Fukushima Daiichi Power Station is a decision by the government of Japan and that this report is neither a recommendation nor an endorsement of that policy.”
The protesters expressed their disapproval regarding the report, saying that the Japanese government was simply “unreasonable” in taking the IAEA report as “a permit for ocean discharge” in total neglect of the opposition from local residents, the fishing industry and neighbouring countries. The protesters chanted: “Even if the ‘poison’ is diluted 40 times, it is still ‘poison’ and its nature cannot be changed.”
Hit by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a tsunami in March 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered core meltdowns that released radiation, resulting in a level-7 nuclear accident, the highest on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. The plant has been generating a massive amount of water tainted with radioactive substances from cooling down the nuclear fuel in the reactor buildings. The Japanese government plans to dump some 1.3 million tonnes of wastewater now stored in about 1,000 storage tanks despite strong opposition.
Workers stage first strike in decades over department store sale
Some 900 workers at a major Tokyo department store went on #strike on Aug 31, protesting the nature of the planned sale of their company Sogo & Seibu to U.S. fund Fortress Investment Group. This is the first major walk-out #Japan has seen in 61 years. pic.twitter.com/il6SFEGc5G— Finance World (@FinanceWorld8) August 31, 2023
Workers at a major Tokyo department store went on strike on 31st August 2023 after talks with management over the planned sale of their company broke down, marking the first major walkout the country has seen in decades.
Some 900 workers at the flagship Seibu store in the bustling district of Ikebukuro are protesting against the planned sale of their company Sogo & Seibu, a unit of retail giant Seven & I, to US fund Fortress Investment Group. The labour union is demanding Seven & I ensure workers will retain their jobs and that the department store will continue to operate even after the sale.
Seibu workers protested in front of the store, hundreds more walked along Ikebukuro’s main streets for an hour in protest, calling for the protection of the Ikebukuro store and workers, while members of various other unions handed out fliers in support. Sogo & Seibu’s workers had the support of labour groups from rival department stores Takashimaya, Isetan Mitsukoshi, Daimaru Matsuzakaya and Hankyu Hanshin.
Strikes are extremely rare in Japan, where negotiations over wages and work conditions are typically agreed amicably. This one-day strike – the first at a major Japanese department store in 61 years – followed months of negotiations between Sogo & Seibu management and the workers’ union.
Journalist files freedom of speech lawsuit against news outlet
In July 2023, a journalist announced at a press conference that he was filing a lawsuit against a news outlet that blocked the publication of a book.
Kyodo News reporter Yoichi Ishikawa published a book – "The Sanctuary of Bullying: The Complete Record of Parents Who Took on the Dark Side of a Christian School" – in November 2022 that reports on the suicide of a high school student. In the book, Ishikawa criticised the reporting attitude of the local newspaper, the Nagasaki Shimbun. He spelled out the fact that the Nagasaki Shimbun “failed to fulfill its mission of journalism.”
In response, The Nagasaki Shimbun, one of the parent newspapers of Kyodo News, said the book was libelous and demanded that Kyoda News block the book. The news agency threatened to discipline Ishikawa if he reprinted the book or publicised the incident.
Kyodo "has silenced the speech of its reporters," Ishikawa says. "To protect my freedom of speech as a journalist, I am filing a lawsuit in the Tokyo District Court seeking damages from Kyodo News."