A Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) officer who made a big effort to make sure that all the information related to a seaman’s suicide while serving in the MSDF is now facing the possibility of military punishment for his troubles. The 46-year-old lieutenant commander in Japan’s MSDF had campaigned at length to show that there were instances of bullying against the MSDF seaman who took his own life in 2004.
The MSDF had repeatedly said in the hearing of the case that the results of a post-suicide survey of the MSDF member’s shipmates on bullying had been “discarded”. After the whistleblower intimated to the trying court that the MSDF might have hidden the data, the MSDF had allegedly “found” the survey again. A 21-year-old seaman of the MSDF destroyer Tachikaze committed suicide in Tokyo in October 2004. The suicide note he left behind revealed that he had suffered violence from one of his senior crewmates. The following month, the MSDF conducted a survey covering all 190 crew members of the Tachikaze to see if bullying was a factor in his suicide. It found that the seaman was shot with an air gun and grabbed by the collar by the senior crew member aboard the destroyer. In 2005, the victim’s family filed a freedom-of-information request for the survey, but the MSDF said it had been discarded.
In 2008, the lieutenant commander learned that the results of the survey still existed and went to a Defense Ministry office for whistle-blowers, but the still MSDF denied the existence of the data. The lieutenant commander also sought to obtain the survey through freedom of information procedures, but the MSDF said it had been discarded. In 2012, he submitted a statement to the Tokyo High Court, saying the MSDF was hiding the survey. The MSDF finally said it found the survey after a reinvestigation and apologized. The long-running case is a very specific example of government organizations’ tendency to conceal information, a primary concern about the state secrets protection law enacted on Dec. 6.