In September and October 2014, unknown persons reportedly made violent threats against Japanese universities, including bomb threats and threats of harm to university professors and members of their families.
The perpetrators were demanding that the dismissal of certain professors over work they had done prior to their academic appointments as journalists for the newspaper Asahi Shimbum. The threats follow the August 2014 admission by the newspaper that a series of articles it published in the 1980s and 90s were false. The articles were based on the accounts of a former Japanese soldier, who claimed that, during World War II, he had witnessed women from Jeju Island, South Korea being abducted and forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military. The soldier’s accounts were eventually discredited. The paper’s retraction did not question the existence of the practice at that time, a history which has been widely documented elsewhere. The newspaper’s admission led to a public outcry in Japan, including statements by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accusing Asahi Shimbum of damaging Japan’s reputation, as well as threats against several former Asahi Shimbum journalists who are now academics. These included an incident on September 13, 2014, when Tezukayama Gakuin University in Osaka reportedly received threats that bombs would be planted on campus if a professor responsible for one of the articles, whose name was withheld from the press, was not fired. The professor resigned on the same day. Similarly, Gakuen University in Sapporo reportedly received emails, faxes, phone calls, and one bomb threat, demanding the ouster of Takashi Uemura, a lecturer in the field of international exchange who had been one of the journalists responsible for the Asahi Shimbum articles. Unknown perpetrators reportedly made direct threats against both Professor Uemura and his children, and posted his children’s names and photographs online. On October 6, 2014, Gakuen University announced that it was postponing a decision whether to rehire Professor Uemura for the following year.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about threats of violence against university facilities and personnel, which undermine security and have a chilling effect on academic freedom and institutional autonomy. This is especially true when the threats demand the forcible dismissal of academics from their posts. While persons offended by alleged misconduct have a right to express their objections, including objecting to an academic’s continued employment, such objections must be raised without resort to violence, coercion or intimidation. State and university officials have an obligation to ensure the security of university facilities and personnel, including protecting academic personnel from threats or intimidation by persons outside the university community. When investigating any allegations of misconduct, university officials must do so in a manner consistent with established procedures and core higher education values, including academic freedom and free expression.