Environment Minister Apologizes to Minamata Sufferers Over Microphones Being Switched Off During Meeting

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Teppei Kiuchi, director of the Environment Ministry’s Special Environmental Disease Office, center, speaks at a meeting with Minamata disease patients in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, on May 1.

MINAMATA, Kumamoto — Environment Minister Shintaro Ito apologized Wednesday to groups of Minamata disease sufferers in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, after some had their microphones turned off while speaking at a meeting with the minister.

When eight groups of certified and non-certified patients of the disease met with Ito on May 1, a ministry official turned off the microphones of two victims while they were speaking.

The ministry explained that the official switched off the microphone as the people had exceeded their allotted speaking time. The groups protested saying that their comments had been unilaterally cut off.

The meeting was held after a memorial service for the victims of Minamata disease that marked the 68th anniversary of the disease being officially recognized.

The patients spoke one after another, with each person being given three minutes to speak.

The ministry, which repeatedly urged them to finish their speeches within their allotted time, began to turn down the volume of their microphones when they exceeded the limit.

When an 82-year-old man was talking about his wife who last year died a painful death from the disease, the ministry’s official interrupted and told him to finish his speech. The official then quickly turned off the microphone and took it away.

Participants protested that Ito should have continued to listen to him, but the minister stated, “I was not aware that [the official] had turned off the microphone,” before leaving the venue in confusion.

“I think it was shocking to suddenly cut [the patients] off while they were speaking their minds. We handled the situation in a way that made people distrust us,” Teppei Kiuchi, director of the ministry’s Special Environmental Diseases Office who emceed the meeting told reporters on Tuesday.