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Organizer of barred Osaka event featuring 'comfort women' statue to sue for venue usage

L-Osaka, the venue that had been set to host Non-Freedom of Expression Exhibition Kansai, is seen in Chuo Ward, Osaka, on June 25, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Fujii)

OSAKA -- Organizers of a planned exhibition in this west Japan city that lost permission to use a prefecture-run venue over safety concerns have cemented plans on June 28 to file a lawsuit by the end of the week with the Osaka District Court to demand venue-usage approval.

    The decision to withdraw permission came following opposition to the show's controversial artworks, including a statue of a girl representing wartime "comfort women." The executive committee still aims to open in July as scheduled, and claimed, "As long as the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, the withdrawal of permission to use venues should be decided rigorously; this recent instance does not meet conditions for withdrawal."

    With the lawsuit, the executive committee plans to demand that the prefectural government's designated administrator rescind measures relating to the withdrawal of venue-usage permission. With exhibition dates for July nearing, it will also seek suspension of the measures' execution to get a speedy court decision.

    The event, titled "Non-Freedom of Expression Exhibition Kansai," is set to feature about 20 items, including the "comfort women" statue shown in the exhibition "After 'Freedom of Expression?'" at international arts festival Aichi Triennale 2019, which was temporarily halted following protest.

    According to parties including the exhibit's executive committee and the facility's designated administrator, the event was scheduled for July 16 to 18 at the prefectural labor center L-Osaka, in Osaka's Chuo Ward. The venue's designated administrator gave usage approval on March 6.

    But after the exhibition's executive committee began promoting the event on social media from mid-June, the venue received around 70 phone calls and emails protesting the exhibit. Demonstrations for the event's cancellation have also been held at loud volumes in the venue's surrounding area.

    L. Project, the designated administrator formed by the Osaka labor association and other parties, determined that the exhibition met conditions allowing for withdrawal of venue-use permissions in cases where management is obstructed, as stipulated in prefectural ordinance on how to use facilities. It withdrew approval in a decision dated June 25.

    The designated administrator reportedly explained to the executive committee that "if the event is held, it is expected that opposition parties will barge in and clash with the executive committee, and cause confusion. It will be extremely difficult to guarantee safety."

    In response, those affiliated with the executive committee raised objections, saying, "There is scant evidence that there will be specific dangers or confusion." The committee is set to file a suit against the designated administrator, who is, in accordance with a prefectural ordinance, entrusted with the prefectural government's right to determine whether events should receive venue approval.

    Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters on June 28 that he "agrees with the designated administrator's decision that the event will impede proper management." While he said he had "no intention of interfering with the expressed content, or of evaluating it as an administrative body," he recognized that "many are uncomfortable with the exhibition."

    Yoshimura commented, "Illegal behavior is unacceptable, but people are free to express their view that the exhibit is wrong."

    (Japanese original by Sachiko Miyakawa, Osaka City News Department, Hirokage Tabata, Osaka Science & Environment News Department, and Masaki Ishikawa, Osaka City News Department)

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