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'Completely heartless' Nagasaki bureau rejects apology request from Korean hibakusha

Kim Song-su, left, and Nobuto Hirano are seen outside the Nagasaki District Legal Affairs Bureau where Kim sought to hand in his written request for measures including an apology, in Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture, on June 17, 2019. (Mainichi/Takehiro Higuchi)

NAGASAKI -- Kim Song-su, 93, who is among some 3,400 conscripted workers and others from the Korean Peninsula believed to have been exposed to the Nagasaki atomic bombing in 1945, was turned away by the Nagasaki District Legal Affairs Bureau on June 17 when attempting to submit a request for an apology from the bureau for its disposal of lists of names believed to belong to Korean laborers, which could prove their status as hibakusha, a person exposed to the bomb's damaging effects.

Kim traveled from his home in Busan, South Korea, to visit the bureau in Nagasaki Prefecture, southwestern Japan, and convey his written request for measures including an apology. But the bureau effectively rejected him on the grounds that media organizations such as the Mainichi Shimbun attempted to cover the handover.

Nobuto Hirano, a joint representative of a liaison group for supporting hibakusha residing overseas, accompanied Kim to the bureau. Criticizing the bureau's decision he said, "It's completely heartless of them to drive out an elderly hibakusha who has come all the way from South Korea to do this."

During World War II, Kim was enlisted to work at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.'s Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works, where he was employed when the A-bomb fell on Aug. 9, 1945. In 2015 he applied for a hibakusha certificate, which affords some health benefits to those recognized, citing his conscription at the shipyard as proof.

But the Nagasaki Municipal Government rejected his request, giving reasons including that no documents exist to verify his claim. He and two other formerly enlisted laborers then filed a lawsuit with the Nagasaki District Court against the city and national government to pursue recognition of their status as A-bomb survivors.

In July 2017, midway through the suit, it emerged that in 1970 the Nagasaki District Legal Affairs Bureau had discarded a deposits list of unpaid wages and benefits owed to some 3,400 suspected Korean workers at the shipyard. At the time, Kim and his fellow plaintiffs said, "It is wrong that the national government would throw out the list, which constitutes important evidence proving people were exposed to the atomic bombing." The defense responded that the documents in question did not relate to workers from the Korean Peninsula.

Despite the state's claims, the Nagasaki District Court's final and binding judgment handed down in January this year was to recognize Kim and the other two plaintiffs as hibakusha. Regarding the other names on the list, the court ruled that, "It is presumed they are those of Korean laborers."

When the bureau rejected Kim on June 17, who had arrived in Japan the day before to present the request, they stated, "This is an individual case, therefore we cannot accept it in front of the media." Kim responded, "It's an important issue and I want it to be covered by the media and widely publicized." But ultimately he could not get them to accept the document.

Reflecting on the outcome, Kim said, "I didn't expect to be treated like this in a democratic country. It's very regrettable."

(Japanese original by Takehiro Higuchi, Kyushu News Department)

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