Matsumoto Hitoshi's libel trial over sexual assault article opens in Tokyo

A popular Japanese comedian's defamation trial over an article that accused him of sexually assaulting two women opened before the Tokyo District Court on Thursday.

Matsumoto Hitoshi is suing publisher Bungeishunju and a magazine editor. He seeks damages over an article that ran in the weekly magazine Bunshun last year in December.

The article reported about two women who claimed Matsumoto sexually assaulted them at a hotel in Tokyo in 2015.

Matsumoto has denied the allegations. He says no objective proof exists that he forced sexual acts on the women. He is seeking 550 million yen, or 3.6 million dollars, in damages and a public correction of the article.

The publisher said at the opening of the trial that it stands by its article. Bungeishunju said it conducted several interviews with the two women and carefully considered the credibility of their allegations. It also interviewed Matsumoto himself and became convinced that the allegations were credible.

The publisher stated that the truth is that Matsumoto committed non-consensual sexual acts. The publisher filed a motion asking Matsumoto to withdraw his lawsuit.

The lawyers for Matsumoto asked Bungeishunju to release the names, addresses and photos of the two women who made the allegations, so that their client can present his arguments more effectively.

Bungeishunju has refused. It says the women have already been subjected to online harassment by social media users.

Matsumoto was not present at the court. His lawyers said he is willing to attend if he is to be cross-examined.