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Attorneys for California city seek dismissal of 'comfort women' lawsuit

A young ethnic Chinese woman who was in one of the Imperial Japanese Army's 'comfort battalions' is interviewed by an Allied officer in Rangoon, Burma, on August 8, 1945.

GLENDALE, Calif. — Attorneys for the City of Glendale asked a federal judge last week to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the city that calls for the removal of a local statue honoring women forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

The request is the latest development in the controversial saga related to the so-called “comfort women” monument since Glendale installed the 1,100-pound, bronze memorial in Central Park in July.

Glendale’s attorneys, a law firm working on a pro-bono basis, told U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson that the lawsuit, filed in February, should be tossed out because its claims are baseless, according to court documents filed Friday.

In addition, according to the documents, Glendale’s right to free speech should protect the monument, which features a young woman in Korean garb sitting next to an empty chair.

However, the lawsuit states that the statue should be removed because its installation challenges the federal government’s power to conduct foreign affairs and set the supreme law of the land.

It also has caused one of the plaintiffs, a Glendale resident of Japanese descent, to feel excluded because it symbolizes “disapproval of Japan and the Japanese people,” according to court records. The woman, Michiko Shiota Gingery, claims in the lawsuit she can no longer enjoy Central Park because of the statue.

The lawsuit was filed by Gingery, Los Angeles resident Koichi Mera, and a nonprofit corporation known as GAHT-U.S that aims to block recognition of comfort women. Calls to Gingery and Mera were not returned Monday.

Glendale’s attorneys wrote under the lawsuit’s “misguided” logic, “any memorial that documents Nazi war crimes would somehow attack present day German and/or Americans of German descent.”

Glendale is not the first public agency to install a comfort women memorial, but it is the first to install one on the West Coast.

Supporters of comfort women say the Japanese military coerced an estimated 80,000 to 200,000 women from Korea, China and other countries to work as prostitutes in military brothels against their will, but opponents, such as those who filed the lawsuit, say the women acted willingly or the forced prostitution was conducted by business owners not the military.

According to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, women were coerced into prostitution and deprived of their freedom. Several former comfort women have spoken publicly about their sexual slavery.

The comfort-women issue is a sensitive subject in Japan as conservative politicians are working to upend previous government statements and apologies about the comfort-women system. Numerous local and federal Japanese politicians have visited Glendale to call for the statue’s removal and a revision of previous apologies.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would do no such thing in a March statement.

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