The police crackdown on the far left in Japan continues unabated. Following the two arrests at a Chūkaku-ha apartment (one was later released and another re-arrested) and recent Kakurōkyō raid, as well as numerous arrests and raids in 2015, now comes a fresh series of arrests by the security police and Kyoto police between February 29th and March 1st.
The targets were high-profile leaders of far-left student activism in Japan: 6 were arrested and 13 places raided by police nationwide, including Kumano Dormitory and other Kyoto University sites. The arrests are in connection with “forcible obstruction of university classes” during a campus strike that prevented classes from taking place at one site for around 6 hours. Raids were also made of Chūkaku-ha bases in Osaka, Fukushima City and Naha, Okinawa.
Chūkaku-ha Zengakuren Chair Ikuma Saitō is among those arrested, along with the head of the Kyoto University student council Dōgakukai, Yōhei Sakube, who both led the small campus strike last October at Kyoto University, which has been a simmering fulcrum for Zengakuren ever since an undercover cop was rumbled on campus in November 2014 (the Kyōdai Poporo incident) and the Kumano Dormitory subsequently raided. Sakube was previously arrested for unauthorised entry onto a Kansai University campus in late 2014, for which he was held for weeks, eventually charged, and found guilty and fined.
It may seem incredible that a campus strike at a public university in a democratic nation would spur police to raid university facilities and arrest students for what is essentially harmless political activism. Ultimately, Saitō et al’s actions amount to little more than the symbolic: there was no violence; the “strike” consisted of a brief barricade and some speeches.
Even at the height of the Hōsei movement a few years ago, dozens of students were arrested and re-arrested over minor infractions, though even these were more serious charges (damaging property, etc) than merely preventing a class or lecture from being held in a faculty building. And in this case, it seems remarkable that this would be a police matter, even (or especially) for a public university.
It was once taboo for police to enter campuses after the 1952 Poporo Incident at the University of Tokyo, though this was broken during the Anpo 1960 campaign and then utterly shattered in the events of the late 1960s. The government passed new legislation giving it more control over public universities, beginning the slow but inevitable process of sanitising campuses into their current ossified states — so much so that by the last decade, universities were removing the bases and infrastructures that had allowed the far-left factions like Kakurōkyō, Kakumaru-ha and Chūkaku-ha to thrive, and even the large boards which students would once fill with impassioned political slogans and messages on campus.
The situations on campuses today is so tense that any political act is potentially dangerous. This has created a whole new generation of “clean” and media-friendly student activists, not least SEALDs, whose tools are digital and savvy, and who place an overt emphasis on co-operating with police and the political establishment.
The faction known colloquially as Chūkaku-ha is today primarily a labour union organisation, associated especially with the unions Dōrō-Chiba and Dōrō Mito, though its Zengakuren branch survives — small, yet reasonably hale compared to most other hard-left student activists.
Police are cracking down on known far-left political groups over minor charges, sometimes related to historical incidents going back decades, ahead of the G7 Summit in Ise-Shima in May. During 2015 Chūkaku-ha student activists were arrested over a “confinement” case, while veteran activists were arrested over allegations of fraud at a non-profit that provides employment services for the disabled. None were charged. There were other arrests over violations as trivial as driving a coach or making a phone contract for someone else. Another 2 Chūkaku-ha unionists were arrested in Osaka in mid-February, only to be released almost immediately. This is in addition to several raids in connection to arrests at the security bills protests at the Diet during the summer.
However, as the past has taught us, increased oppression merely reinforces the activists’ sense of victimhood and their determination to resist the mainstream political status quo. Every small step they make, the police try to force them back, only to see them take another step in a new direction. Already the Chūkaku-ha organ is making bold statements about a second Kyoto University strike. This is also the period of the spring shuntō, the traditional “labour offensive” season for campaigning for workers’ rights for the next fiscal year, during which the far left in Japan tries to concentrate its rallies and activities against neoliberalism and outsourcing, while the imminent five-year anniversary of the 2011 Tōhoko earthquake and tsunami, and subsequent Fukushima disaster, will also attract many anti-nuclear power protests and congeneric anti-government actions.
Update (March 19th): Activists released
Zengakuren announced that all six activists were released from police custody on March 18th without charge.