The Tokyo District Court’s recent decision to ban a book about Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), a conservative lobby with significant political influence, has raised serious questions about freedom of expression and citizens’ right to know.

The court on Jan. 6 issued an injunction against publication of “Nippon Kaigi no Kenkyu,” which describes the history and activities of the organization known for advocating constitutional revisions.

The ruling said the book unjustifiably injures the reputation of a man referred to in the text who filed the lawsuit seeking the publication ban.

Judicial action that bans sales of a book not only damages the author and the publisher, it also intimidates the entire publishing industry.

It also denies people access to information in the book, depriving them of the opportunity to use the information to deepen their thoughts and have discussions with others.

Since a publication ban can seriously undermine freedom of expression, which is vital for building a democratic society, the court should be sufficiently cautious about taking such action.

The judiciary has traditionally adopted the view that a publication ban is acceptable only as an exceptional measure when certain criteria are met.

Is this an exceptional case that justifies the strong action?

The man who sought the injunction is a former senior member of a religious organization that, according to the book, has close ties with Nippon Kaigi.

The book depicts the religious organization’s past drive to increase circulation of its propaganda magazines. It says some young members of the organization borrowed money from consumer credit companies to buy many copies of the magazines and suffered from the lenders’ aggressive debt-collection tactics.

“As a result, some (of these young members) committed suicide. But the man (referred to by his real name) paid little attention to what was happening,” the book says.

The district court judged this part of the book is quite likely untrue. Continued sales of the book would “cause grave and irreparable damage” to the man, the court said in making its case for the injunction.

This is a surprisingly abrupt jump to the conclusion.

If a person’s reputation is damaged by publication of unsubstantiated information, the victim should, of course, be given redress. There are some ways available for such victims to seek redress, such as demanding compensation payments and publication of apologies.

But the court’s ruling moved beyond these measures to completely banish a book from society. What is its rationale for taking such radical action? What did it think about the action in relation to freedom of expression and people’s right to know?

The court’s ruling didn’t contain any serious discussion on these key issues. It was based on a sloppy and flimsy argument for banning any book containing ill-founded claims or information that can defame people.

This unconvincing ruling leaves us wondering if the court really understands and respects constitutional values.

The publisher is apparently planning to respond to the injunction by compiling a revised version of the book by deleting the parts criticized by the court. But such a step will not amount to a true solution.

In a past case, a high court overturned a lower court ruling that ordered a ban on publication of a weekly magazine on grounds of privacy violations.

We are eager to see a high court overturn the injunction in a decision that will pass the test of time.

This case is actually an acid test of the judiciary’s commitment to key constitutional principles.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 12