TOKYO — A former journalist who wrote stories about women forced into sex slavery by Japan before and during World War II filed a defamation suit Friday against a publisher and a scholar who accused him of fabricating the issue.
Takashi Uemura said their criticisms triggered threats against him, his families and employer, a university in northern Japan. He wrote only two stories on the subject, including one for the Asahi newspaper in the early 1990s based on the account of a South Korean victim.
Uemura's story was the first published interview with the first woman who came forward with her experiences, Kim Hak-soon. He has been criticized by revisionists since then, but he said Friday that it became much worse since the magazine article last year.
The lawsuit says Uemura was defamed as a "fabricator" in a magazine article published in February 2014 by Bungeishunju Ltd., and Tsutomu Nishioka, a Tokyo Christian University professor of Korean studies. He says the article triggered massive harassment and threats to himself, his family and the university where he teaches.
"Some people want to intimidate me by attacking me and my former employer, the Asahi," Uemura told a news conference in Tokyo. "But I'm not a fabrication journalist, and I will continue to prove that."
He said the attacks reflect a trend where revisionists try to silence those who look at "the dark side of Japanese history — its wartime actions that they want to hide."
The journalist wants Nishioka's article removed from the Internet, an apology published in the magazine, and 16.5 million yen ($138,700) in compensation for the damage he suffered from the defamation and subsequent threats.
The magazine's editorial section said it has "full confidence in the article," while Nishioka said he believed what he wrote was "within the freedom of speech," Kyodo News reported.
Last August, the left-leaning Asahi acknowledged that its stories in the 1980s and 1990s quoted a wartime labor official who fabricated accounts about forcing Korean women to provide sex to soldiers during the war. The Asahi also said that earlier stories, including Uemura's, erroneously mixed up "comfort women" with those who worked in other capacities.
Uemura did not write stories quoting the labor official, Seiji Yoshida. In his Asahi article in 1991, he said the South Korean woman he interviewed had been deceived to become a "comfort woman," a common euphemism for the victims.
Historians say tens of thousands of women, including Japanese, Koreans and others from around Asia, were sent to front-line military brothels to provide sex to Japanese soldiers.
A 1991-1993 government investigation concluded many of the women were recruited against their will, leading to Japan's landmark apology. That investigation found no proof in existing official documents, however, and conservatives have cited that in arguing the women were not coerced.
They also hold the Asahi responsible for spreading the impression that all comfort women were coerced. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament last year that Asahi's "mistaken report" had hurt Japan's image.
Others, including liberal experts and human rights activists say there are plenty of evidence, court documents and witness accounts to show many victims were forced into sexual servitude.