MR. TORU HASHIMOTO FILES SLAPP SUIT AGAINST IWJ PRESIDENT YASUMI IWAKAMI–“Although the cause of appeal this time is perhaps the tiniest in the world, so tiny that it could be listed in Guinness World Records, I worry that the freedom of speech will suffer a setback on a colossal scale. Japan needs anti-SLAPP law,” said Iwakami in a press conference at the FCCJ.
※Attorney Toru Hashimoto, is former governor of Osaka Prefecture and former mayor of Osaka City. He was also representative of the Osaka Restoration Association, and is now a legal adviser for the association.
He is known to have filed many defamation lawsuits against publishers and writers. His messages in Japanese can be read on his Twitter(@hashimoto_lo).
“No other trial might have a greater impact on us both domestically and internationally than this one, inspite of its ‘tiny’ cause of appeal—just one retweet. It’s an important case crossing between the problems of SLAPP suits and social media.
In October last year, Iwakami retweeted a tweet which got his attention on his Twitter time-line, with no comment of his own attached. And then, more than a month later, in December, Iwakami got unexpectedly sued by Mr. Toru Hashimoto, an attorney and former governor of Osaka Prefecture in Japan, for defamation. Iwakami subsequently held a press conference for overseas media and spoke as noted above.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) located in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, hosted a press conference with Yasumi Iwakami, IWJ president and journalist, which started at 15:00 on Feb. 2, 2018, where Iwakami discussed the “damages claim case filed against him for alleged defamation committed by his retweet.” Attorneys Mr. Kazuyuki Azusawa and Mr. Hitone Saka also joined the conference. This was a third conference on the topic, following the conferences at the Courtroom Reporters’ Association in Tokyo and the Free Press Association of Japan, both held on Jan. 22, 2018.
▲Photo taken during the press conference at the FCCJ
Iwakami, after pointing out that the case concerns the freedom of communication, expressed fear that every citizen will be deprived of the freedom of opinion and freedom of presenting issues, and said clearly that it was deplorable for Mr. Hashimoto to sue him without any prior talks between the two.
On the social media Twitter, you are free to retweet to present all sorts of topics, such as urgent ones or ones for preventive measures. It should also be noted that your retweets do not necessarily mean that you have agreed to the contents of the original tweets.
“You can do a lot with tweeting and retweeting. If you don’t like what is said in tweets or if you have different information, you can communicate and discuss it with others on the Internet. You could correct wrong information in no time. These interactions are very important,” said Iwakami. “We should never allow some intimidating lawsuit to shrink this public space of speech.”
Attorney Saka explained the case. “I think this lawsuit is a SLAPP litigation aiming to exhaust Mr. Iwakami both financially and physically. Since the case had been filed in Osaka (meaning we will have to go there whenever we need to appear in court), we have filed a petition for transfer to Tokyo to secure the equity between the two parties.”
Iwakami stated, “In current Japan, there has been little move to establish anti-SLAPP law. We need to have widespread discussions on the issue of SLAPP. I myself am going to re-raise it as a matter of public interest.”
Participants: YASUMI IWAKAMI (IWJ president and journalist); KAZUYUKI AZUSAWA (lawyer); HITONE SAKA (lawyer)
Date: Friday, Feb. 2nd, 2018.
Place of event: Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo)
Host: Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (For details, click here http://www.fccj.or.jp/)
“This lawsuit is a SLAPP litigation aiming to exhaust Mr. Iwakami both financially and physically!”
At the beginning of the press conference, attorney Saka revealed facts of the case.
“Mr. Iwakami has been sued over a retweet. The original tweet was posted on Oct. 28th last year. The tweet touched upon the fact that Mr. Hashimoto had caused officers working for the Osaka Prefectural Government to take their own lives. After the original tweet was posted, Mr. Iwakami retweeted it around on Oct. 29th. There were no comments by Mr. Iwakami added to in his retweet.”
“Then, on Dec. 15th, Mr. Hashimoto filed a lawsuit against Mr. Iwakami at the Osaka Summary Court. It was a damages claim case for defamation asking for 1 million yen in compensation for the defamation and a lawyer’s fee of one-hundred thousand yen. Since the case has been filed in Osaka, Mr. Iwakami is obliged to make appearances in an Osaka court.”
“We believe that this lawsuit is a SLAPP litigation aiming to exhaust Mr. Iwakami both financially and physically. So, we petitioned to the court (the Osaka Summary Court) to transfer the case to Tokyo to secure the equity between the two parties (*).”
▲Photo of attorney Hitone Saka
Attorney Azusawa also expressed his concerns, “Mr. Hashimoto is definitely a public figure. If former politicians and public figures like him took the same footsteps and sued whomever they target at however distant a court from the place of residence of a defendant, then, it could have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression enjoyed by citizens criticizing public figures.”
*Three days after this press conference, on Feb. 5th, 2018, the Osaka Summary Court decided “to reject the transfer petition.” Iwakami then tweeted, “As far as plaintiff Mr. Toru Hashimoto’s motives go, he got what he wanted in the first round.”
Despite of the fact that the cause of appeal is tiny, no other case is beyond this one in international implications.
Attorney Azusawa, viewing the case as a challenge to the freedom of expression on Twitter, said, “We the citizens have acquired this social medium. We must be aware of the importance of the freedom of expression we have exercised there. This case has treated a retweet as defamatory, but on the medium Twitter, citizens are creating a public space by retweeting original tweets. In that respect, this trial is extremely important.”
▲Photo of attorney Kazuyuki Azusawa
Iwakami said, “The SNS culture has been pervading all over the world. If a Japanese person tweets, the tweet spreads all over the world, and vice versa. This is no domestic topic kept inside Japan” and emphasized the wickedness of sending a sudden petition with no complaints made there and then over one already-taken out retweet with no added comments. “No other case might have a greater impact both domestically and internationally than this one, in spite of its ‘tiny’ cause of appeal—a single retweet.”
Iwakami also pointed out, “Japan has no anti-SLAPP law. We haven’t even been equipped with the legal concept of SLAPP (*).” “It’s an important case crossing between the problems of SLAPP suits and the freedom of social media. The case refers to the freedom of communication, harming every citizen’s freedoms of opinion and presenting issues.
*SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation)
A SLAPP, which is filed by a socially advantaged person against a socially disadvantaged person, is a lawsuit that is intended to intimidate, pressure, and exhaust the latter financially, physically, and mentally. In American states like the state of California, they have a system to check petitions before accepting them, and by so doing, to stop SLAPP lawsuits beforehand.
Mr. Hashimoto’s SLAPP: No communications by any kind of interaction on SNS
Iwakami also pointed out the significance of this being a “lawsuit over a retweet,” and went on to say:
“Yesterday, too, Mr. Hashimoto posted tweets criticizing me. Soon after, I retweeted those tweets as they were, with no comments of mine added. Of course, I disagree 100% to what those tweets say, but I did retweet them to ask you to think about them. This kind of behavior, that is, retweeting without agreement, is often possible to happen.”
“Everywhere in cyberspace, we could all make mistakes or get imperfect information. For example, during the Great East Japan Earthquake, a person tweeted who got worried about the situations at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, ‘There are radioactive clouds drifting to us’. The person was soon vilified for the behavior. But what the person had tweeted turned out to be correct later. Let me remind you that such tweets posted for preventive purposes have been targeted for vilification.”
▲Photo of Yasumi Iwakami, IWJ president and journalist
At times of emergency or to promote public awareness on varied issues, you are free to tweet or retweet, in which freedom is contained a lot you can do. You can easily start discussions or make quick corrections on SNS. If you have different views and information from what people have, you should start communication with participants right there.
Iwakami emphasized the point: “These interactions are very important. It is very regrettable to see how Mr. Hashimoto omitted any communication and filed a suit.”
A letter of petition was suddenly sent off to me, and when I opened it, I found that it was about an already-deleted retweet. “I was astounded by this most ridiculous thing that has ever occurred to me.”
The press conference then proceeded into a question and answer session. Mr. Michael Penn of the Shingetsu News Agency asked, “Has there been any past legal case where a lawsuit was filed over a retweet? And there should have been other twitter users who retweeted that same tweet, but how come Mr. Iwakami is the only one sued?”
▲Photo of Mr. Michael Penn of the Shingetsu News Agency
Attorney Saka responded with the following explanation: “There is one precedent at the Tokyo District Court, in which a retweet constituted a defamatory act. But it’s not an established precedent of the Supreme Court.” As to why Mr. Iwakami is the only person sued, attorney Azusawa responded with the following analysis: “While Japanese mass media are currently in unsatisfactory situation for most citizens, Mr. Iwakami’s IWJ has gained support from them and been a brilliant existence. That’s why, I think, Mr. Iwakami was intentionally singled out and sued.”
Iwakami, asked by Mr. Penn how he felt when he received the letter of petition, answered as follows:
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“I, as a journalist, could anytime face legal risks of being sued for defamation. I have experienced a similar lawsuit before this one, and I know how it goes. First, you get complaints from them; then, you hold talks with them; if the matter is not settled by the talks, you receive a content-certified mail; then, if you decide not to respond to their demands, you receive a letter of petition. This is the normal procedure. But Mr. Hashimoto sent off a letter of petition to me, out of the blue. I opened it only to find that it was about an already-deleted retweet. I was astounded by this most ridiculous thing that has ever occurred to me.”
▲Photo of Yasumi Iwakami, IWJ president and journalist
Mr. Masaaki Noda, a psychiatrist, had once contributed an article to the monthly magazine Shincho 45, and the title was: “The Governor of Osaka Prefecture is ‘sick’.” He was then sued by Mr. Hashimoto, but the Supreme Court found in favor of the psychiatrist. Iwakami said, “I have talked with Mr. Noda, and found that also in his case, he unexpectedly got a letter of petition from Mr. Hashimoto. Mr. Noda said, such might be a usual practice for him.”
The freedom of speech has no place for “freedom of threat.” We should not allow threats to attack the freedom of speech!
Attorney Saka pointed out that the current litigation by Mr. Hashimoto would have a chilling effect on the space of speech created by Twitter. Relating to this point, Iwakami introduced a series of incidents that had occurred around him after Iwakami made his litigation public.
“A person wrote to me, ‘I have become so nervous making just one retweet ever since’. We (IWJ) also received tens of silent phone calls in early hours of the morning on Feb. 1st. On one of those phone calls, I myself picked up the phone. The person on the other end of the line without giving his name, insulted us, like: ‘You deserve it being sued,’; ‘Such a company as yours better go bankrupt’. Clearly, those threatening calls came from a person who had been incited by Mr. Hashimoto’s SLAPP litigation. To record this fact, I tweeted: ‘I suspect that those threatening calls were from someone that had been agitated by Mr. Hashimoto’s SLAPP litigation. Such a behavior should not be tolerated. The freedom of speech shall not be inflicted on by threat, intimidation, or harassment. Needless to say, the freedom of speech does not mean that you are free to insult or threaten other people.’
Commenting on this tweet of mine, Mr. Hashimoto tweeted on the morning of Feb. 1st: ‘I have never made it public that I sued him. But because Mr. Iwakami himself held large-scale press conferences, I naturally hit back. He doesn’t seem to realize that all those incidents occurred to him because he had held press conferences and made a big fuss about the matter’.”
What do you think of this tweet of his? Iwakami asked to his audience and went on to criticize Mr. Hashimoto, saying: “He justified sending me a letter of petition without any prior contact and shifted the responsibility onto me, saying, it might have been the remote cause for those incidents to occur that I held press conferences to hit back.”
In current Japan, there is little move to establish anti-SLAPP law. This is why I want this matter to trigger the quest for its establishment.
Mr. Kenji Oikawa of France10 said: “In the past, the consumer credit company Takefuji sued journalist Mr. Yu Terasawa for defamation, demanding a compensation of over hundreds of millions of yen. A lawyer representing Takefuji then was Mr. Hirofumi Yoshimura, a member of the Osaka Restoration Association and current mayor of Osaka City.” Those involved with the association might have been engaged in suppressing speech through SLAPP litigations, said Oikawa in his view of the current matter.
▲Photo of Mr. Kenji Oikawa of France10
In response to Mr. Oikawa, Iwakami said: “I have no detailed data to judge whether they have the tendency to file SLAPP suits. But Mr. Hashimoto has filed numerous lawsuits in order to stop the criticism toward him.”
“What you should pay attention to more than anything else is that Mr. Ichiro Matsui, current Governor of Osaka Prefecture, has sued Mr. Ryuichi Yoneyama, current Governor of Niigata Prefecture and it appears to be a SLAPP litigation filed in the same timing as mine. An attorney representing Governor Matsui is lawyer Takafumi Matsukuma of the Hashimoto Law Office. I have a feeling that these two lawsuits appear to be separate litigations but are linked together as one SLAPP lawsuit.”
By the way, Iwakami is interviewing Governor Yoneyama and asking him about Governor Matsui’s lawsuit among other matters on Feb. 16th. As to when the interview will be aired, please wait for later announcement.
As for the future course of action, Iwakami stressed what needs to be done: “Currently in Japan, we see almost no move to establish anti-SLAPP law. Mr. Hiromichi Ugaya (*) is the only person in Japan that has done any serious research on the issue of SLAPP. We should have widespread discussions on the topic.”
*Oricon Inc. vs. Ugaya（by Wikipedia）
In an article in the monthly magazine Saizo, the editorial questioned Oricon Inc., saying, Oricon, in its music charts, may be discriminating in favor of musicians of Johnny & Associates, Inc. Among the people whom the editorial had interviewed to ask for comments on the phone was Mr. Hiromichi Ugaya. In 2006, Oricon Inc. sued Ugaya, demanding 50 million yen in compensation for defamation. He was the only person sued at that time. The president of Orion Inc. said, “We will withdraw our lawsuit if Mr. Ugaya apologizes to us for this matter as well as for the previous articles he wrote for other magazines.” This case indicated one of typical SLAPP litigations. In 2009, Oricon gave up their demand.
In addition to that, Iwakami said, “We need to carry out new observations to find out what kind of political party the Osaka Restoration Association is and what kind of person Mr. Hashimoto is. Moreover, we need to think about issues, including the freedom of speech on the Internet and whether we can treat tweets and retweets the same way. Iwakami ended the conference saying: “I was stumbled to suffer unnecessarily, have made lots of people worried, and have gotten lots of encouragement. I appreciate the encouragement. It’s not that I will just remain stumbled. And I’d like to re-raise this as a matter of public interest some other occasions.”