Japan’s Environment Minister issues apology for disrupting Minamata victims’ speeches

Japan’s Environment Minister apologizes after officials mute Minamata disease victims’ microphones at a meeting. The incident sparks protests, highlighting ongoing challenges in addressing industrial pollution legacies.

Japan’s Environment Minister, Shintaro Ito, issued a public apology Wednesday following a disturbing incident at a meeting in Kumamoto Prefecture. Officials, in a move that has sparked widespread condemnation, muted the microphones of Minamata mercury-poisoning disease victims as they addressed the gathering.

Expressing profound regret, Minister Ito conveyed his sincere apologies to reporters, acknowledging the unacceptable nature of the action. He pledged to personally visit Minamata, located in southwest Japan, later in the day to meet with the victims and address their concerns firsthand.

Tensions flared during the May 1 meeting between Minister Ito and representatives of eight Minamata sufferers’ groups when a ministry official silenced the microphones of two participants after their allotted speaking time had lapsed. The incident incited uproar among attendees, prompting the groups to stage protests and demand accountability from the minister.

The Minamata disease, stemming from mercury contamination in water discharged by the Chisso Corp. chemical plant in Minamata, was officially recognized by local health authorities in 1956. The debilitating illness afflicts victims with severe neurological damage and birth defects.

Despite government efforts to provide relief, legal battles persist for unrecognized sufferers who have been excluded from compensation measures. The recent incident underscores the ongoing challenges in addressing the legacy of industrial pollution and ensuring justice for affected communities in Japan.