July 14, 2020 - Updated on July 15, 2020

Japanese journalist victim of judicial harassment for “defamatory” retweet

RSF calls on the Osaka High Court to reconsider its dismissal of an appeal made by a journalist who was previously sentenced for the retweet of a controversial message, deemed “defamatory”.

On June 23rd, the Osaka High Court dismissed the appeal of Yasumi Iwakami, the founder of the news site Independent Web Journal. The influential journalist was sentenced in September 2019 for “defaming” the former Osaka prefectural governor, Toru Hashimoto, after retweeting two years earlier a message suggesting the governor was responsible for the suicide of one of his subordinates, who claimed he was a victim of harassment.

"The Osaka High Court must reconsider its decision to dismiss the appeal of Yasumi Iwakami, which prevents him from demonstrating his good faith when he is clearly the victim of judicial harassment”, insists Cédric Alviani, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia bureau head. “The journalist should have had no reason to worry about the repercussions of merely retweeting a message he found informative, which is part of a journalist’s work, and even less reason to fear the possibility of being sentenced for defamation.”

During the first court ruling, the judge considered retweeting an unverified claim to be an act of endorsement, with the celebrity journalist’s large online audience of nearly 180,000 Twitter followers constituting as an aggravating factor, sentencing him to a fine of 330,000 Yen (2,700 euros).

In Japan, although the principles of media freedom and pluralism are largely respected, the press still struggles to fulfill their role as society’s watchdog under the sway of persistent traditions and economic interests. Journalists have been complaining of a climate of mistrust and even hostility directed at them ever since the reelection of prime minister Shinzo Abe in 2012. For journalists covering certain topics deemed sensitive such as the Fukushima nuclear incident or the coronavirus epidemic, government pressure and online harassment by nationalist groups has become the norm.

Japan ranks 66th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.