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Worried about political message

September 18, 2014

Hibakusha group withheld nuclear testing protest photos from exhibition



A hibakusha group in Tokyo bowed to concerns raised by the Tokyo metropolitan government this summer and withheld photos of protests against nuclear weapons testing from an exhibition.

The July 18-23 exhibition was organized by Toyukai (Tokyo Federation of A-Bomb Sufferers Organizations), which will celebrate its 56th anniversary in November. About 4,800 of the 6,000 or so hibakusha living in Tokyo belong to Toyukai.

"We wanted to display the photos to illustrate the activities of our group toward the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons," said 82-year-old Kohei Oiwa, who heads Toyukai. "However, we decided to accept the position of the Tokyo metropolitan government because the atomic bomb exhibition could still go on even without the photos."

Tokyo metropolitan government officials were concerned that foreign visitors to the observatory at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, where the exhibition was held, would be offended by photos showing Japanese protesting against specific nations for conducting nuclear weapons tests.

Exhibitions about the August 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been held at the observatory every year since 2009 under the group's auspices.

This year's exhibition was held under the theme, "The actual situation of atomic bomb suffering and Tokyo's hibakusha." About 170 items, including photos, illustrations and tiles that survived the atomic bombings, were displayed. The exhibition also described the radiation damage from the bombings, as well as Toyukai's activities over the years.

About 5,500 visitors took in this year's exhibition.

Toyukai initially planned to display photos of protests held between the late 1990s and early 2000s against nuclear tests conducted by the United States, Britain, France, China and India. The photos showed protesters holding banners that specifically named the nations that conducted the nuclear tests.

The photos were shown to Tokyo metropolitan government officials in charge of the exhibition on July 10. The officials raised concerns that some people might mistakenly construe that the photos carried a political message. Toyukai members then decided against displaying the photos.

An official of the Tokyo metropolitan government section that decided whether to support the exhibition said: "Although we are not opposed to the organizing of the atomic bombing exhibition and the anti-nuclear stance of the hibakusha itself, the Tokyo metropolitan government has exchanges with many nations and many foreigners visit the observatory. There was the possibility of offending the feelings of those visitors by displaying contents of opposition to past nuclear tests conducted by specific nations."

The section which manages the observatory also concluded that the photos would fall under the condition of "containing political coloring," which is used to decide against renting out observatory space.

But Masahiro Takasaku, a professor of constitutional law at Kansai University, said freedom of expression could be threatened if local governments and organizing groups become increasingly hesitant about dealing with controversial topics.

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