Court orders Nikon to allow ‘comfort women’ exhibition

June 23, 2012


The Tokyo District Court on June 22 ordered Nikon Corp. to allow a photographer to use its venue for a “comfort women” exhibition that had been called off last month amid escalating protests.

Nikon, which argued that the cancellation of the exhibition was due to its “political” content, not the criticism, appealed the court’s decision.

The exhibition has been organized by Ahn Se-hong, a Korean photographer who is based in Nagoya.

“It is appropriate decision that took into account freedom of expression,” Ahn, 41, told a news conference after the court ruling. “I want to hold the exhibition by all means.”

In December last year, Ahn applied to hold the photo exhibition at the Nikon Salon, considered a prestigious venue among photographers. It would feature about 40 photos Ahn had taken since 2001 of Korean women who were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.

The women were left behind in China after Japan’s surrender in 1945.

“I want to show the public how those women felt,” Ahn said.

Nikon approved his request after a panel of five experts, including photographers, examined the project. It was scheduled for June 26 through July 9.

But on May 22, the company canceled the exhibition without giving a reason, according to Ahn, who then filed for a court injunction against Nikon’s decision.

Around that time, comments protesting the comfort women exhibition were appearing on the Internet, with some calling the event a “foreign country’s propaganda” or “an act of treason that contributes to the fabrication of history.”

Ahn also said he received silent phone calls and letters protesting the exhibition.

A Nikon official acknowledged in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun that the company had received calls complaining about the exhibition.

During the court proceedings, Nikon argued that the Nikon Salon venue was available only for photo displays that are intended to contribute to the development of photographic culture.

“One of the conditions for allowing a photo exhibition there is that the show should have no political motives,” Nikon said. “(Ahn’s exhibits) are in conflict with this.”

But the court dismissed Nikon’s argument, saying such a condition was not clearly specified.

The ruling also said, “This exhibition has some political message, but it does not hurt the purpose of contributing to the development of photographic culture.”

The court concluded that Nikon cannot cancel its contract with Ahn because he had fully informed the company about the theme of his exhibition.

“We will allow Ahn’s exhibition if our appeal is not granted by June 26,” a Nikon official said. “It is true that we have received protest calls and e-mails, but we will refrain from discussing the content and the number of them because we are appealing the court order.”

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Ahn Se-hong shows his photos of Korean "comfort women" at a news conference in Tokyo on June 22. (Shingo Kuzutani)

Ahn Se-hong shows his photos of Korean "comfort women" at a news conference in Tokyo on June 22. (Shingo Kuzutani)

  • Ahn Se-hong shows his photos of Korean "comfort women" at a news conference in Tokyo on June 22. (Shingo Kuzutani)

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