Japan vagina kayak artist denies obscenity charges

TOKYO - A Japanese artist charged with obscenity for distributing plans of how to build a kayak shaped like her vagina denied the charges when she appeared in court on Wednesday.

In a case that has sparked accusations of heavy-handed censorship, artist Megumi Igarashi said she had done nothing wrong in handing out the code for a 3D printer.

"I am innocent because neither the data for female genitals nor my art works shaped like female genitals are obscene," she told judges at Tokyo District Court.

Igarashi was first arrested in July, but was freed several days later following a legal appeal and after thousands of people signed a petition demanding her release.

But Tokyo police arrested her again in December, on three counts of distributing "obscene" data -- namely CD-ROMs containing computer code for a 3D printer that would allow users to make copies of the vagina-shaped kayak.

She was held in custody for around a month before being granted bail.

"I have been arguing that it is strange to single out one part of a human body that every woman has" and treat it as obscene, she told journalists and supporters after the hearing.

"Some people say my works are cheap and not even art, but that should not justify police moves to arrest me," she said.

One of her lawyers, Takashi Yamaguchi, said the defence team believes "it is extremely outrageous that anybody can be arrested and forced to stand before judges because of making artworks or working as an artist."

If convicted of distributing or possessing obscene materials for the purpose of selling, Igarashi could face up to two years in jail and/or a fine of as much as 2.5 million yen ($21,000).

Japan has an enthusiastic and prolific pornography industry that caters to all imaginable tastes. But rigid obscenity laws ban the depiction of actual genitalia, which normally appear pixellated or behind black spots.