Christopher Johnson Attempts to Silence Criticism of His “Gaijin Gulag” Article (Legal Threats!!!)

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    On January 20th and 23rd, I wrote posts about Canadian journalist Christopher Johnson’s account of being denied entry to Japan:

    Johnson is now trying to intimidate me into deleting those blog posts. He wants my criticism of his article to disappear from the internet. I will not be threatened or bullied into silence.

    Many people were skeptical about Johnson’s extraordinary story. When people asked legitimate questions about his visa status, he was evasive. When critics pointed to parts of the personal account that they thought were inconsistent or false, those parts would disappear from Johnson’s story. Johnson has edited his blog post numerous times.

    In my blog posts, I tried to deliver reasonable analysis and commentary about Johnson’s article/blog post. The edits to the story, Johnson’s comments on Twitter and Debito.org, and Johnson’s refusal to disclose the full details of his visa status made me skeptical. I found it difficult to accept everything he wrote at face value. And I made my views about that rather clear.

    I did not claim to know the full facts of Johnson’s case. So when I blogged about his article and his online comments, I did not try to present my commentary as the absolute truth about his situation. I commented on how the situation “appeared” and how things “seemed.”

    Moreover, the two blog posts directed readers to Johnson’s own version of the story, as well as several outside sources, at which they could read various viewpoints on Johnson’s story.

    I believe that the freedom of speech is a fundamental human right. And that human right extends to the internet. On this issue, I agree with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s view of bloggers’ rights:

    Bloggers' Rights at EFF

    Bloggers are entitled to free speech…..Internet bullies shouldn’t use copyright libel or other claims to chill your legitimate speech.”

    Unfortunately, Christopher Johnson does not appear to share my belief of what constitutes free and legitimate speech.

    Here is a copy of a threatening e-mail that Johnson sent to Japan Probe:

    ——————————–BEGIN E-MAIL——————————–

    Dear James and Editors of Japanprobe,

    This is a cease and desist order. You are ordered to immediately remove posts defaming me from your website.

    Cyber bullying and online slander is a crime in Japan and other countries. Recent court decisions in Japan have awarded millions of yen in damages for defamation. According to the “Provider Responsibility Guidelines Law” (provider sekinin kisei-ho), Article 2 Clause 1 (Electronic Mail Privacy), the defendants also had to reveal the IP addresses of the people who posted the damaging comments.

    Your site is defaming the reputation I have built over 25 years as a foreign correspondent in Asia. I earned more than $100,000 US in 2011, and that salary is relevant in claims for compensation.

    The evidence is overwhelming.

    You took an online exchange between myself and my colleague, Jake Adelstein, out of context, to suit your agenda of slandering me. Mr. Adelstein, who covers legal and police issues in Japan, has every right to sue you as well.

    There is no evidence to support your malicious claim that “Johnson has not been friendly towards people who have asked him about his visa status. His display of rude arrogance in a public Twitter conversation with Jake Adelstein and Tokyo Reporter has done little to inspire confidence in his story.” Jake Adelstein and Tokyo Reporter have made no such claims about my alleged “rude arrogance”, and we in fact often exchange messages on twitter.

    There is no evidence to support your claim about “highly unlikely and possibly wrong parts of the article.” This tarnishes my reputation as a journalist, which has been beyond reproach for 25 years. Everything in my story, which cites more than a dozen sources, is supported by overwhelming evidence of facts.

    This is another erroneous claim meant to slander: “The article seems full of exaggerations, like his complaint that he was forced “onto a flight to Canada without much winter clothing for minus 40 temperatures in Alberta”. In fact, temperatures often reach minus 40 C in Alberta. This is no exaggeration to anyone who lives here.

    You fabricated this, again with no evidence:

    ((It now has a new passage (emphasis added):

    Though I had work visas dating back to 1989, and papers saying the government had acknowledged the receipt of my application to renew my work visa, I was detained at Narita airport and expelled.

    If this is correct, it seems to confirm what many people had suspected: Johnson did not have a valid work visa.))

    To “support” your malicious claims, you cited a defamatory comment by [PERSONAL INFORMATION REDACTED], under a pseudonym “Wagyl”:

    ((One user on the FG forums responded to Johnson’s new claims with the following:

    Or maybe it is a global world conspiracy by NHK, Serbians and the nuclear industry specifically targetting him. I wonder which is more likely.”))

    This claim has no point or relevance, other than to tarnish my professional reputation:

    ((“However, while millions of us stayed at our homes and workplaces in Tokyo, Johnson joined the panic-stricken and got the got on a bullet train.” “I think everybody is…COUGH excuse me.” “But even…uh…Sony for example..uhm..normally has”. He only contributed to the English language news reports that exaggerated the exodus from Tokyo and encouraged others to flee. For his heroic service, he apparently deserves special treatment at immigration checkpoints.))

    Furthermore, your articles make no attempt to balance your slanderous attacks against me with the facts of the case:

    –Amnesty International reports about mistreatment of foreigners at Narita since at least 1995;

    – a Tokyo District Court decision in 2004 awarding 2.2 million yen compensation for victims of assault and extortion at Narita;

    – the death of a Tokyo expat in custody of immigration officers at Narita;

    – Asiana Airlines claim that they are also a victim of a “third party” at Narita.

    As you may have noticed, many of the slanderous attacks in the comments section of The Economist and other sites, including Japanprobe, have defamed me as well as my brother, my publisher and some of the media outlets that purchase my work.

    I know the identities of some of the people behind pseudonyms. They have slandered me on other sites, including www.tepido.org, www.fuckedgaijin.com, www.boingboing.com, and others. None of these people are above the laws of Japan or any other country, which protect people from defamation, slander and cyber bullying.

    I did not survive 9 wars to allow anyone to defame me, my family, and my colleagues and employers. I will certainly not allow people to ruin my reputation after I have been wrongly expelled from Japan, where I have worked hard to build a life and successful career.

    You are ordered to immediately remove posts defaming me from your website.

    Sincerely,

    Christopher Johnson

    Tokyo-based freelance correspondent for the Washington Times, New York Times, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail Report on Business, CTV Canada, CBC Canada, DW-TV Berlin, France 24, Asia Times, Japan Times, CNNGO, CNN.com and others

    ——————————–END E-MAIL——————————–

    Johnson’s threats are ridiculous. It is not cyber bullying or defamation when a blogger writes analysis and criticism of articles and public statements made by a public figure.

    My response to the accusations Johnson makes in his threatening e-mail can be found below.

    Claim 1: I took Twitter conversations “out of context” to slander Johnson

    Answer: My observation was based on the entire Twitter conversation. I was not taking remarks out of context. Twitter conversations are not private. Both Johnson and Adelstein know this, as their profession quotes and republishes tweets all the time. Their conversation took place on a public forum and I was expressing my view of that conversation.

    Johnson apparently does not want anybody else to get a look at the context of the conversation. He has deleted most of the tweets. (A couple survive as screencaps: Johnson compares himself to a rape victim / Johnson is more important than TokyoReporter )

    Claim 2: There is “no evidence” to support my claim about “highly unlikely and possibly wrong parts of the article.”

    Answer: It is not illegal to express a view about something being “unlikely” or “possibly wrong.” The content of my blog post corresponded with what other critics were already writing on other sites (Tepido.org, FG, Debito.org, and the Economist).

    Claim 4: In fact, temperatures often reach minus 40 C in Alberta.

    Answer: Pretty funny, coming from a person who accused me of taking information out of context. In Johnson’s original article, he complained about being expelled from Japan “onto a flight to Canada without much winter clothing for minus 40 temperatures in Alberta.” As I wrote in the post, temperatures that day in Alberta were not anywhere close to minus 40. And he had just arrived in Japan on a flight from Seoul, where it was actually colder than Alberta. (Johnson’s original statement sure sounds like an exaggeration to me, and I’ve visited Canada in winter too.)

    Claim 5: The quotation about authorities having “acknowledged the receipt” of a work visa application was a fabrication.

    Answer: The quotation is accurate. It is not a fabrication. I copy-pasted it directly from Johnson’s article. There is nothing wrong with commenting on what the passage seemed to say about his visa status.

    The fact that he later edited the post and removed that passage does not mean that line never existed. The changes to Johnson’s blog post were well documented by several sources.

    Perhaps Mr. Johnson has changed his story so many times that he has become unable to keep track of what he has and has not written. That’s Mr. Johnson’s problem.

    Claim 6: To “support” my “malicious claims” I cited a defamatory comment by [personal info].

    Answer: Johnson made some very strange comments on Debito.org about NHK and Serbian propaganda. The quote from FG Forums makes a humorous observation about public comments from a public figure.

    Claim 7: Bringing up Johnson’s March 2011 report about having fled Tokyo “has no point or relevance, other than to tarnish my professional reputation.”

    Answer: It is relevant because Johnson’s Narita article contained a passage emphasizing that he had not fled Japan after the disaster.

    I believe the transcript is accurate. I am quoting Johnson’s own words. There is nothing unreasonable about remarking that news reports about people fleeing Tokyo encouraged other people to flee.

    It is odd is that quoting him verbatim is “tarnishing” his professional reputation. Does he no longer stand behind his work?

    Claim 8: The Japan Probe “articles make no attempt to balance your slanderous attacks against me with the facts of the case.”

    Answer: I am under no obligation to include the information that Johnson insists I should have included in the posts. Johnson has a very odd idea of “the facts of the case,” since they mostly appear to be facts about entirely different incidents. And, as I have already mentioned, I directed readers to visit other sites to learn more about Johnson’s case.

    Claim 9: Johnson is facing “slanderous attacks in the comments section of The Economist and other sites, including Japanprobe.”

    Answer: Johnson doesn’t specify any comments. Generally, I support the idea of readers freely expressing their opinions about public figures, even if those opinions may be negative.

    So, there you have it. The letter doesn’t appear to contain any other claims worth answering.

    Should you be publishing this?

    Johnson’s e-mail contained a header declaring that it was “confidential” and prohibiting “distribution, copying, disclosure or modification” of its contents. While such a header might be an effective scare tactic against some people, I know it to be invalid:

    Question: Is a cease-and-desist letter confidential?

    Answer: There is ordinarily no expectation of privacy or confidentiality in a letter sent to an adversary. Unless you have made a specific promise of confidentiality beforehand, such as in a protective agreement or NDA, a letter demanding confidentiality doesn’t bind you.

    And so Johnson’s C & D letter has been published here and has been submitted to Chilling Effects’ database of C & D letters, where it will soon be archived.

    Aside – Johnson thanks his critics?

    Yesterday morning, Level3 wrote a comment on how Johnson’s critics had pointed out holes in the original Narita story. Johnson’s subsequent edits and deletions seemed to reflect this. It was almost as if Johnson had been altering his account to be more believable. Questionable sections suddenly disappeared and new details were miraculously discovered to fill holes in the story. Level3 wrote that “us evil stalkerz at tepido, and FG, and Japan Probe served as editors” for Johnson’s story.

    Soon afterwards, Johnson wrote this on his Twitter account:

    Note: This website is not located in Japan.

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