Critics: Book on killer of disabled people sends wrong message

From The Asahi

23rd July 2018

A book about the confessed killer of 19 people was released on July 20, despite deep concerns that it could spread his disdain for disabled people and legitimize his ideas about euthanizing them.

“Akerareta Pandora no Hako” (Pandora’s box opened) was published by Tsukuru Publishing Co. ahead of the second anniversary of the attack at a facility for disabled people in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Satoshi Uematsu, 28, is accused of breaking into the Tsukui Yamayurien institution in Sagamihara and using knives and other weapons to kill 19 residents and injure 27 others, including three staff workers, on July 26, 2016. Many of the victims, including those with intellectual disabilities, were killed while they slept.

Before the attack, Uematsu, who had previously worked at the home, sent a letter to the Lower House speaker, lashing out at people with multiple disabilities for “causing only unhappiness.”

He also wrote that one of his goals in life was to create a “world where the disabled have access to euthanasia.”

The book features his notes and thoughts, recounts his childhood and provides details about the assault.

Hiroyuki Shinoda, editor-in-chief of the publisher’s monthly magazine, Tsukuru, defended the decision to release the book, saying it also sheds light on why the incident occurred and proposes measures to prevent a similar tragedy by printing interviews with family members of the victims as well as the insights of psychiatrists.

“I feel a deep sense of crisis as I see society fast forgetting the incident because the news media have not scrutinized it,” Shinoda, 66, said.

The book is partly based on Shinoda’s 70 or so exchanges with Uematsu via e-mail and interviews since July 2017.

In the articles carried in the magazine, Uematsu was unwavering in his attitude toward disabled people, arguing that “mercy killing should be accepted for people who are incapable of communicating with others.”

The magazine had previously sparked controversy by printing the memoirs of death-row inmates.

Opponents of the book, many of them parents of disabled people, said the project would “give a wrong message to society.”

In June, Takashi Sasaki, a professor of welfare for the elderly at the Junior College of the University of Shizuoka, visited the Tokyo-based publisher and presented about 2,000 signatures of people opposed to the release of the book.

Sasaki, 61, learned of the book project when he visited Uematsu in detention. Sasaki, whose 22-year-old son is autistic, said he had taken an interest in the case that targeted the socially vulnerable and wanted to hear what the suspect had to say.

He said Uematsu and the Tsukui Yamayurien attack have already had serious consequences in his personal life.

“The name Uematsu is a banned word at our home because my son gets panicky when he hears it,” Sasaki said. “My son is terrified by his beliefs.”

The professor said he became gravely concerned that publication of the book would allow the perpetrator’s thoughts to proliferate.

He scrambled to stage a weeklong signature campaign calling for the cancellation of the book in front of Shizuoka Station in the prefectural capital of Shizuoka.

Many disabled people and those with disabled offspring signed up for the drive, according to Sasaki.

Shinoda said he acknowledged the protest and carefully examined the contents of the book. He said he decided to devote more pages on his own opinions and explanations so that readers would not get the wrong idea about the purpose of the publication.

“Uematsu actually perpetrated the assault,” he said. “Just glossing over it as an act by somebody with a self-centered idea is not what we should do. The book is meant to overturn his assertions, and publishing the book will be a first step toward a broader debate of the case.”

But Sasaki remains skeptical of the wisdom of printing a book that outlines Uematsu’s way of thinking.

“Publishing a book on his ideas will be tantamount to giving him social recognition and credit,” he said.

Takashi Ono, father of Kazuya Ono, a 45-year-old man who was seriously injured in the attack, said it is ultimately up to the readers to decide what they should elicit from the book.

“I am hoping that people will all think hard and understand that the accused’s view is wrong,” Ono, 74, said.

Uematsu was indicted in February 2017 on murder, attempted murder and other charges by the Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office.

Prosecutors say he is mentally fit to stand trial, although their psychiatric evaluation found that he has a narcissistic personality and other personality problems.

The Yokohama District Court is continuing evaluating his mental state. The schedule for his trial has not been set.

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