Updates on the Free Fumiaki Hoshino Campaign

There have been some updates on the campaign to free Fumiaki Hoshino from his decades behind bars.

Hoshino was a Chūkaku-ha activist who is currently serving a full life sentence for his alleged part in the death of a riot police officer in a protest in Shibuya in November 1971. No concrete evidence links Hoshino to the death except for five others’ confession testimony, extracted, his supporters assert, by coercion, and all of which was subsequently denied by the supposed witnesses. Instead, his campaigners say, there is evidence that contradicts the testimony and they have been fighting to have new pieces of evidence entered as part of their application for a retrial.

A large rally was held on June 29th in Ueno. The organisers of his legal support, led by his wife Akiko, announced the launch of a campaign to collect 1 million signatures calling for Hoshino’s freedom. In the wake of the release of Iwao Hakamada and several other high-profile cases of false imprisonment, his supporters hope Hoshino likewise be freed before he turns 70. Hoshino has been behind bars for nearly 40 years on arguably politically-motivated charges, since he was a veteran New Left activist known to police and they were probably determined to finger him for something.

fumiaki hoshino

The petition calling for all the prosecution’s evidence to be disclosed and for a retrial has attracted over 53,000 signatures so far.

They have had past success with petition campaigns. The prosecution originally wanted a death sentence for Hoshino but a 120,000-strong petition was a success, of sorts, in that the first trial ended with Hoshino being given a sentence of 20 years. The prosecution appealed and Hoshino was re-sentenced to life behind bars.

The rally, attended by 670, also saw the debut of three songs his supporters have penned to raise supporters’ spirits and awareness about the issue in a positive way. New Left movements in Japan are often seen as denunciatory and dogmatic, and the three upbeat songs demonstrate how this needn’t always be the case.

After months of delay tactics from the police, 33 negatives of photographs from the scene of the incident in 1971 have been scanned by the Tokyo prosecutors’ office and the data disclosed. One of the negatives is for a photograph which shows that the white paper wrapped around Hoshino’s stave on the day is undamaged, thus making it highly improbable that he had just helped beat a police officer to death, as the testimony claims. This photograph was first disclosed in 2010 but was then rejected the Tokyo High Court in 2012, along with the campaign’s second application for a retrial. (They have lodged an objection to this, which is pending.)

The high-resolution scanning data of the negative then marks a distinct step towards having tangible evidence negating the police narrative of Hoshino as the leader of the gang that attacked the police officer on the outskirts of Shibuya. The High Court said that, while it is certainly not clear, there nonetheless “appears” to be some markings on the paper around the stave. A high-resolution scanning of the original negative might then be a game-changer for this detail of the case.

However, the prosecutors rejected the campaigners’ application to have 11 witnesses’ testimonies made public. These were ordinary people at the site on the day of the incident, as opposed to young activists the police subsequently arrested. The prosecutors claim that the people only witnessed the proceedings for a few seconds and so their testimony given to police cannot be disclosed as evidence.

The Hoshino campaign has also been involved with two civil suits.

One pertains to the censoring of nine letters between Hoshino and his wife, and restrictions placed on his visiting rights. For a brief time starting in 2006 Hoshino was able to meet visitors in prison in Tokushima other than his immediate family or lawyers. In all, 96 friends visited him in this way, though from May 2010 these visitors began to be turned away. His supporters sued the state over what they viewed as repressive tactics deliberately designed to punish. His wife was even once turned away from the prison when she went to visit Hoshino in 2010 on their twenty-fourth wedding anniversary. This was on the grounds that Hoshino’s allocated visits have been used up for that month by a lawyer’s visit, even though this theoretically would not have been counted the same way.

After a two-year case, the courts ruled in July in their favour in relation to his wife’s rebuffed visit in 2010, though the compensation rewarded is always nominal. It is a very mixed victory, since the ruling also rejected the demand for visiting rights for seven friends and supporters, and only recognised the illegality of the censorship for two of the nine letters.

A ruling is due in September for the other civil suit against the judiciary and the Tokyo bureau of the security police regarding the “loss” of a video recording of TV news footage of the Hoshino and his group of demonstrators in November 1971. The Tokyo security police announced that it had been lost despite the fact that Hoshino’s trial was still ongoing.

You can learn more about the Fumiaki Hoshino case in a previous article on this website or in this The Japan Times article I wrote in late 2013.

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