May 18, 2001
CONTACT: Rie Tsumura
Office of Public Information
Courts Rule Against Weeklies, Asaki Family
in Higashi Murayama Libel Suits
TOKYO: In separate verdicts issued this week, two Japanese courts have found that the parties alleging the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai was in some way responsible for the death of Higashi Murayama City councilwoman Akiyo Asaki in 1995, are liable for defamation. The latest decisions clearly vindicate Soka Gakkai, with the courts consistent in their finding of accusations directed at the Buddhist group to be untrue and deliberately injurious.
On May 15, the Tokyo High Court ruled that Daito and Naoko Asaki, the deceased councilwoman's husband and daughter, had willfully defamed Soka Gakkai. The Asakis had accused Soka Gakkai of complicity in the fatal fall of Mrs. Asaki in an article in the September 23, 1995 issue of Shukan Gendai, a tabloid weekly published by Kodansha. In October 1995 Soka Gakkai filed suit over the article.
In July 1999, the Tokyo District Court found former Shukan Gendai editor Masahiko Motoki and Kodansha liable for defamation. The latest decision, which comes after the defendants appealed the lower court verdict, now holds Daito and Naoko Asaki also liable for their statements as well as for a portion of the monetary damages awarded.
On May 18, the Tokyo District Court also found publisher Shinchosha and the editor of its weekly Shukan Shincho, Hiroshi Matsuda, liable for defamation. Soka Gakkai sued the two in September 1997 over two articles leveling similar accusations as Shukan Gendai.
Both weeklies have been ordered to pay 2 million yen (approx. US$18,000) each in damages. In his summation, Tokyo District Court Chief Judge Yoichi Kikuchi was openly critical of Shukan Shincho, stating "there was no evidence that [its] article is true" and that it "fostered the impression that the councilwoman's death was not a suicide but a crime, with Soka Gakkai illegally involved."
Mrs. Asaki, a vocal critic of Soka Gakkai, died from injuries after she fell from a building in the Tokyo suburb of Higashi Murayama on September 1, 1995. Two official inquiries--one conducted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and the other by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office--have since concluded that Mrs. Asaki's death was a suicide and there is no evidence of any crime.
Shortly after Mrs. Asaki's death, articles appeared in Shukan Gendai and Shukan Shincho, based solely on interviews provided by Daito and Naoko Asaki. In his ruling, High Court Chief Judge Hideichi Yazaki found the Asakis' story to be false and vindictive, noting that they were "fully cognizant of the fact that [their comments] would be used...to defame Soka Gakkai."