A Japanese court sparked widespread outrage Thursday by acquitting three former Tepco executives accused of criminal negligence for their failure to take adequate safety measures ahead of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
In 2011, a powerful earthquake off the coast of Japan caused a tsunami that severely damaged Tepco's Fukushima Daiichi power plant, unleashing tons of radioactive material and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.
Prosecutors said Tsunehisa Katsumata, Sakae Muto, and Ichiro Takekuro knew of the severe risk posed to the facility by a tsunami as early as 2008 but refused to act.
"The executives were charged with contributing to the deaths of 44 people who had been living in a hospital and nursing home near the plant and died during the hasty evacuation or soon after," the Wall Street Journal reported.
Yuichi Kaido, lawyer and anti-nuclear activist, told the New York Times that the executives "themselves had done the calculations" on the risk of a tsunami "and hid them for three years."
"The only way to see this is the court has issued an unfair verdict," Kaido said following the acquittal.
This is what corporate impunity looks like.
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The court's decision provoked a furious response from the dozens of people who rallied outside Tokyo District Court hoping the executives would be held accountable.
"I couldn't be more angry," a man who was forced to evacuate due to the Fukushima disaster told supporters at a rally following the verdict. "We can't go back to our normal lives. Those who were at the top of the company at the time must be prosecuted!"
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) September 19, 2019
Akihiro Yoshidome, an 81-year-old anti-nuclear campaigner from Tokyo, told AFP he was shocked by the court's decision.
"I had braced myself that we might not get a clean victory, but this is too awful," Yoshidome said. "This shows Japanese courts don't stand for people's interest. This can't be true."