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Koizumi picks up win from Naha District Court

Date Posted: 2005-02-04

The Prime Ministerís controversial visits to a Tokyo shrine were found constitutionally correct by a Naha District Court.

The court tossed a lawsuit filed in Fall 2002 challenging Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumiís visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war dead and convicted war criminals. The lawsuit contended Koizumiís two visits in 2001 and early 2002 violated the constitutionís division between state and religion.

The court skirted the constitutionality issue of Koizumi's visits, with presiding Judge Kazuto Nishii saying, "There is no need to judge the responsibility of the defendants because there was no infringement of the plaintiffs' legal rights or interests."

Complainants were asking for nearly 10 million yen in compensation from the Prime Minister, claiming he caused them emotional grief and anguish by visiting the Shrine. They insisted Koizumiís visits were in his official capacity, thus placing him in violation of the Constitutionís Article 20, which directs separation of religion and state, while guaranteeing freedom of religion.

The plaintiffs had relatives who died in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II and are honored at Yasukuni. The judge sympathized with the petitioners, but said Koizumiís actions donít infringe upon any specific rights. The judge rejected any compensation arguments.

The Naha District Court ruling noted the separations of state and religion are more a systemic guarantee that protection of any specific right. ďThe plaintiffs whould have to show they were treated disadvantageously based on their religion,Ē said the judge, in order for the suit to have validity.

The ruling angered many of the plaintiffs, who had argued the visits ďviolated the freedom to remember war dead based on each personís values.Ē They promised to appeal the ruling. The groupís lawyer said the court ignored its duty to uphold judicial independence, and claimed the court evaded itís responsibility to decide whether the visits were official or private.

The ruling sparked anger and dismay among the plaintiffs, who had said in their petition that the visits "violated the freedom to remember the war dead based on each person's values." Their lawyers said they will appeal the ruling.

Shunji Miyake, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said "We openly entered through the front entrance, asking for a judgment on whether the visits were official. But the ruling came out the back door.Ē

Judge Nishii and the other judges in the case, visited sites of the Battle of Okinawa and listened to survivors' accounts of the war. Choho Zukeran, 72, who gave testimony on what had occurred at the time during the visit, said he felt betrayed. "I was grateful to the judges . . . for going all the way to the battlegrounds and had high hopes" regarding the verdict.Ē

At the same time, Kazunori Zakimi, chairman of the prefectural association of next of kin of war dead, said he was satisfied with the verdict. Zakimi said ďWe'd like to see visits to Yasukuni Shrine by the prime minister and other Cabinet ministers become an established event.Ē

Koizumiís visits to the Shrine keep on fanning protests both in Japan and with its Asian neighbors who suffered at Japanís hands during colonial and world World War II rule. Since becoming Prime Minister in 2001, Koizumi has visited at least once each year. The government insists Koizumiís visits are as a private citizen, and not as the prime minister. Opponents counter the visits were official because he signed the guestbook ďPrime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

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