Photo/Illutration Yukio Himiyama, right, a professor emeritus of the Hokkaido University of Education, and Yoichi Kibata, a professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, during a Dec. 2 news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo (Ryuichi Kitano)

Hundreds of academic societies on Dec. 2 released a joint statement in English to bring international attention to what they described as a threat to academic freedom in Japan.

The statement called on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to explain and retract his refusal to appoint six scholars to the Science Council of Japan.

Three members representing the 310 academic societies in the field of humanities and social sciences held a news conference the same day at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward.

They said they want to tell scholars and members of the public around the globe that many academic societies in Japan are alarmed by the government’s unprecedented decision to reject the six council-recommended scholars.

Half of the Science Council’s 210 members are appointed by the prime minister based on the council’s recommendations every three years.

Every prime minister had appointed all those named on the council’s list of recommendations until Suga refused to approve membership to the six scholars, who had previously criticized government policies.

Suga has denied he violated academic freedom with the rejections, but he has not clearly explained why those six academics were denied membership.

The original Japanese joint statement was drafted by the Japanese Liaison Council for Academic Societies in the Humanities and Social Sciences, which was set up in October following the rejection of the scholars. The statement was published on Nov. 6 and signed by members of 226 academic societies.

It was later translated into English.

Academic societies across various fields, including education, sociology, history and literature, took part in or supported the statement.

At the news conference, Yoichi Kibata, a professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo who heads the Japanese Historical Council’s international exchange committee, revealed that the president of the Paris-based International Science Council (ISC) sent a letter in November to Takaaki Kajita, president of the Science Council of Japan.

“We ... view very seriously the implications this (Suga’s refusal to appoint the six scholars) has for scientific freedom in Japan,” the letter read.

In the letter, the president said the ISC will provide “strong support” to guarantee freedom of expression for scientists and defend scientific freedom of choice in recommending members for the Science Council of Japan.

Yukio Himiyama, a professor emeritus of the Hokkaido University of Education and a former head of the International Geographical Union, also expressed concerns about the issue.

The Science Council plays a key role in having scholars work together beyond their areas of expertise and facilitating cooperation between academic and government organizations when addressing issues of global environment and the sustainable development goals (SDGs),” he said at the news conference. “The rejection of appointing the six scholars could undermine such efforts.”