CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A Japanese-Australian community leader said Thursday that he had filed a racial discrimination complaint against a Sydney church that he alleged intimidated Japanese nationals by erecting a memorial to women forced to work as sex slaves by Japan's World War II army.
Tetsuhide Yamaoka, president of the Australia-Japan Community Network, said he had complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission about the prominent display of a statue of a so-called comfort woman from Korea in the grounds of the Uniting Church in suburban Ashfield.
Such statues around the world had become focal points of political, racist and often violent anti-Japanese demonstrations.
"We consider this is a huge intimidation to the Japanese nationals," Yamaoka said in a statement from Tokyo.
The church's minister Bill Crews said the only change he would consider to the statue's position would be to display it more prominently.
"I find it very sad," Crews said of the complaint. "To me, it's about the suffering of the women. I've got no antipathy toward the Japanese people."
The statue has been displayed on the church grounds since August after the local municipal council voted against a Korean community request to erect it in a park. Crews said he was outrage by the council decision, which he blamed on Japanese community pressure.
The complaint was under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which critics argue puts too much of a curb of freedom of speech.
That section makes it unlawful for someone to do an act that is reasonably likely to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" someone because of his or her race or ethnicity.
But Simon Rice, an Australian National University expert on discrimination law, said the church likely had a defense in Section 18D of the act.
Section 18D ensures that artistic works, scientific debate and fair comment on matters of public interest are exempt from Section 18C, providing they are said or done reasonably and in good faith.
"I can't think of a case that has been about a public monument, but I think 18D probably covers it," Rice said.
He said the complaint could lead to an agreed settlement through the Australian Human Rights Commission's mediation process before the case reaches court.
A court could order that the statue be removed.
The Australian Human Rights Commission said that privacy laws prevented it from commenting on complaints.
Historians believe that as many as 200,000 girls and women from Korea, China and other occupied nations were forced into Japanese military brothels.
Many Japanese dispute the claims. They oppose the term "sex slave," which the United Nations uses, preferring the euphemistic "comfort women."
Tokyo has promised a 1 billion yen ($1 million) fund as a way to atone for its wartime sexual abuse of South Korean comfort women. Seoul has certified 245 of them — 64 survivors and the relatives of the 199 who died — as eligible recipients.