Koizumi's Yasukuni visit ruled unconstitutional

Koizumi's Yasukuni visit ruled unconstitutionalFUKUOKA, April 7 Kyodo


In a landmark ruling Wednesday, the Fukuoka District Court said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo in August 2001 -- four months after taking office -- violated the Constitution's provision for the separation of state and religion because he went in his official capacity.

In Tokyo, Koizumi said he will continue to visit the Shinto shrine, calling the ruling ''irrational'' and saying he has been going to the sanctuary in a ''private'' capacity ''because I was motivated by personal feelings.''

The court said the visit to the shrine is religious activity, which the state is banned from participating in under the Constitution.

The decision was handed down in a suit filed by 211 plaintiffs in the Kyushu region who claimed the premier's visit to the shrine on Aug. 13, 2001, violated the constitutional separation of state and religion.

''Despite persistent opposition from the public and even from the Liberal Democratic Party, the prime minister visited the shrine, which is not necessarily an appropriate place to honor war dead, based on political motivations,'' Presiding Judge Kiyonaga Kamegawa said.

The plaintiffs had sought 21.1 million yen, or 100,000 yen each, in damages from the government, citing the psychological suffering they experienced as a result of the premier's shrine visit.

The court rejected their demands for compensation, ruling it cannot say the visit violated their freedom of conscience.

Tsuneaki Gunjima, leader of the plaintiffs' group, said, ''It is the best ruling. Our request for compensation was rejected, but our purpose was achieved.''

Article 20 of the Constitution stipulates the state and its organizations shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activities.

The suit said Koizumi had visited the shrine while accompanied by his state-paid secretaries, using an official car and signing the visitors' book with ''Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.''

The plaintiffs described Koizumi's visit as an unconstitutional religious activity since he paid homage at the shrine and took part in a Shinto ceremony there.

The state argued that there was no cabinet decision on the visit and that it was not made in Koizumi's official capacity as prime minister.

The shrine honors 14 convicted World War II Class-A war criminals, including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo, along with Japanese war dead. China, South Korea and other Asian nations that suffered Japanese military aggression and atrocities regularly protest visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine, which is regarded as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Koizumi has visited Yasukuni Shrine every year since August 2001, prompting stiff protests from China. His latest visit was on Jan. 1 this year.

New Komeito party leader Takenori Kanzaki, Koizumi's close ally in the ruling coalition, renewed his call Wednesday to build a new national facility without no religious affiliation to honor war dead to make sure ongoing disputes over the government leader's shrine visits will end.

Similar lawsuits against Koizumi's Yasukuni visits have been filed at five other district courts -- in Tokyo, Chiba, Naha, Osaka and Matsuyama.

The Matsuyama and Osaka district courts rejected the plaintiffs' demands and did not make a constitutional judgment on the visit. The plaintiffs have appealed.

The Fukuoka court presiding judge said in handing down the ruling that he and his two fellow judges made a constitutional judgment because they believe it is their duty to do so.

''The Yasukuni visit was made without sufficient debate on constitutionality and has been repeated since. If the court evades making a constitutional judgment, the likelihood will be high that similar acts will be repeated,'' the judge said.

The Sendai High Court ruled in January 1991 that official visits to the shrine by prime ministers are unconstitutional. The ruling has been finalized as the Supreme Court has rejected an appeal without hearing the case.

In 1992, the Osaka and Fukuoka high courts said there are doubts about the constitutionality of an August 1985 Yasukuni visit by then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, which Nakasone had said was an official visit.