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Environment Minister apologizes to Minamata patients as microphones were switched off during meeting


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

MINAMATA, Kumamoto – Environment Minister Shintaro Ito on Wednesday apologized to groups of people suffering from Minamata disease in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, after some had their microphones turned off during a conversation with the minister.

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

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

The meeting took place after a memorial service for the victims of Minamata disease, marking the 68th anniversary of the disease’s official recognition.

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

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

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

Participants protested that Ito should have continued to listen to him, but the minister stated: “I didn’t know that [the official] had turned off the microphone,” before leaving the room in confusion.

“I think it was shocking to suddenly stop [the patients] as they spoke their thoughts. We handled the situation in a way that made people distrust us,” Teppei Kiuchi, director of the ministry’s Special Environmental Diseases Office, who led the meeting, told reporters on Tuesday.

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