Photo/IllutrationA member of a citizens group reads a letter calling for the resumption of an exhibition on freedom of expression, while other members hold a banner that reads in part “We wanted to see the exhibition!” in Nagoya on Aug. 7. (Sayaka Emukai)

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NAGOYA--A group of citizens in Aichi Prefecture is calling for the resumption of a controversial exhibition that was shut down in this city over fears for public safety after mounting protests, including an arson threat.

On Aug. 7, four days after the show titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” closed its doors, the group submitted a letter to Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura requesting it be reopened.

Omura is the chair of the organizing committee of the Aichi Triennale 2019, which began running in the prefecture on Aug. 1.

The exhibition, which was staged at the Aichi Arts Center in Nagoya, was part of the international art festival, and is scheduled to continue through Oct. 14.

In its letter, the group decried the cancellation.

“(The exhibition) displaying artworks whose freedom of expression should have been guaranteed was called off due to threats from protesters and intimidation by politicians who went beyond the constitutional norm,” it read.

After he saw the exhibition, Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura urged Omura on Aug. 2 to remove a statue representing “comfort women” who were forced to provide sex to wartime Japanese troops.

Kawamura said the statue, created by South Korean sculptors, “tramples on the feelings of Japanese.”

“It's nothing other than censorship, which is banned under the Constitution,” the group said of the mayor’s act, demanding Kawamura apologize to the exhibition’s organizing committee.

The group said it has been demonstrating since Aug. 4 in front of the Aichi Arts Center, calling for the show to be resumed.

The exhibition gathered more than 20 pieces, including the statue and works themed on Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989), that had been shunned by other public venues due to controversy. Daisuke Tsuda, a journalist who is the artistic director of this year’s Aichi Triennale, planned the show out of concern that artists are facing fewer opportunities to present their works because of protests.

In Tokyo on Aug. 7, seven scholars joined the chorus demanding the continuation of the exhibition, describing its closure as “yet more evidence demonstrating that Japan is a society where freedom of expression is compromised.”

The scholars are members of a civic group established in July to protect free speech from self-censorship among public servants and media outlets.

“Citizens calling for freedom of expression must set a good example by having the exhibition resume, rather than letting it turn into a bad example,” said group member Yoko Shida, a professor of the Constitution at Musashino Art University, at a news conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward.

Shida's remarks were a reference to Tsuda's Aug. 3 announcement canceling the exhibition. At a news conference that evening, Tsuda said he regretted setting a “bad example” by caving in to pressure from critics.

Yasuhiko Tajima, a former Sophia University professor of media and law, urged citizens to think deeply about how politicians reacted to threats to sabotage the exhibition using violence.

“Public authorities interfered and inflamed tensions, instead of protecting (freedom of expression) with all their might,” he said. “This is totally unacceptable.”

(This article was compiled from reports by Katsumoto Horikawa, Sayaka Emukai and Kayoko Sekiguchi.)