* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Reporters Without Borders deplores the climate of censorship and self-censorship that continues to prevail in discussion of nuclear energy in Japan three years after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, 250 km north of Tokyo.
In particular, Reporters Without Borders condemns the treatment of independent journalists and bloggers who are critical of the government and the nuclear energy lobby, dubbed the "nuclear village" by its detractors.
The latest example is a "criminal contempt" complaint against freelance journalist and blogger Mari Takenouchi for a tweet about a project by an NGO called Ethos for encouraging the population to keep living in areas contaminated with radioactivity, which she described as "human experiments."
"The complaint brought against Mari Takenouchi is yet another example of the way groups linked to the nuclear energy lobby are trying to gag opposing views," said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.
"By criticizing the programme to encourage inhabitants to keep living in still radioactive areas, this journalist is just documenting a legitimate and well-substantiated concern about the health risks linked to radiation. We urge the head of Ethos, Ryoko Ando, to withdraw her complaint against Takenouchi, which acts as a deterrent to all independent news providers.
"As we feared in 2012, the freedom to inform and be informed continues to be restricted by the ‘nuclear village' and government, which are trying to control coverage of their handling of the aftermath of this disaster. Its long-term consequences are only now beginning to emerge and coverage of the health risks and public health issues is more important than ever."
Ismaïl added: "However, those who try to draw attention to the continuing risks linked to radiation or who accuse of the government of being unprepared or even deliberately minimizing the risks are censored and harassed by the authorities and the nuclear power industry, which increasingly resembles a dark and untouchable mafia."
Takenouchi, a freelance journalist who has a blog and has translated three books on nuclear radiation, was notified on 29 January by the police of Iwaki Minami, in Fukushima prefecture, that Ethos director Ryoko Ando (also known as Yoko Kamata) had brought a criminal contempt complaint against her in connection with the tweet.
After interrogating Takenouchi at her home for three hours on 13 February, the Fukushima police asked her to go to police headquarters the next day, when she was interrogated for another four hours. The findings of their investigation were sent on at the beginning of March to Fukushima's chief prosecutor, who will then decide whether to prosecute her.
In her articles and in interviews for independent media, Takenouchi has accused the government of pursing a public relations policy that plays down the radiation health risk for people in contaminated areas.
She has written: "Ethos is a programme where residents including pregnant women and children are encouraged to keep living in contaminated areas through carrying out decontamination and radiation measurement, which most importantly resulted in sickness among the majority of children. This was conducted in Belarus and now is in Fukushima funded by pro-nuclear lobbies."
She pointed out on 3 February that the Ethos programme's launch had only been reported at the local level by national public TV broadcaster NHK and some local TV stations. To alert public opinion, she recently posed a video in which she describes the findings of her research, based mainly on material in the public domain, about radiation risks and the dangers that the Ethos programme poses for the youngest sector of the population.
This case recalls the libel suit that the head of a nuclear security systems company brought against freelance journalist Minoru Tanaka in 2012 in connection with his coverage of developments in the nuclear energy industry after the disaster. The suit was abandoned in August 2013.
Ever since the Fukushima-Daiichi disaster in 2011, freelance journalists and foreign news media trying to cover Japan's nuclear energy industry have found their access to information being restricted.
Both Japanese and foreign reporters have described to Reporters Without Borders the various methods used by the authorities to prevent independent coverage of the disaster and its consequences.
They have been prevented from covering anti-nuclear demonstrations and have been threatened with criminal proceedings for entering the "red zone" declared around the plant. And they have even been interrogated and subjected to intimidation by the intelligence services.
Reporters Without Borders is previewing here a passage from the "Fukushima censored" video that will be posted on our website (www.rsf.org) soon.
Japan has fallen 22 places in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index in the past two years, and is now ranked 59th out of 180 countries.
The six-place fall of the past year is partly attributable to the Japanese Diet's adoption of a special intelligence protection bill on 26 November that will allow the government to classify any sensitive information as a "state secret."<br/>