Three Japanese anti-nuclear power activists have been arrested for transporting people in a station wagon or minivan-style vehicle to a protest in Fukushima. On January 18th, the trio — aged from their fifties to seventies — were arrested by Saitama Prefecture police on suspicion of violating the Road Transportation Law. Prefectural police also claim the three are members of the far-left group Chūkaku-ha.
The allegations relate to a trip the activists organised on September 5th, 2015, when they drove passengers from Saitama City to Naraha in Fukushima. They collected around ¥4,000 per person to cover transport costs. The trip was timed to protest the lifting of the evacuation order in Naraha that day. However, this kind of “service” would officially count as a commercial “tour” and require a licence. Police say the organisers recruited passengers online and may have run similar “tours” since the Fukushima disaster.
The announcement by police that the three are Chūkaku-ha activists is intended to shame them publicly, especially as one of the activists is employed by Kazo City as a civil servant. Media reports note that colleagues are “shocked” how their “hard-working” co-worker could belong to such an organisation. (No media reports seem, though, to comment on the triviality of the charges or their implications for any group of peers travelling in hired transportation.)
No mention of the arrests is made in the latest issue (January 19th) of the Chūkaku-ha organ, Zenshin, though it may been going to press as the arrests transpired. Usually the newspaper will comment when activists are arrested. The edition does, however, talk about an upcoming protest in February against the restart of Takahama Nuclear Power Plant.
The Zenshin blog posted a short message on January 19th denouncing the arrests as a “frame-up” and identifying the three as members of Nazen Saitama. This is a tacit acknowledgement of their association with Chūkaku-ha, since Nazen is its (ostensibly youth-oriented) anti-nuclear group. The post also clarifies that the “tour” had been a trip to observe the situation at Naraha and that the money had simply been collected to share the costs of hiring the car.
It is very unlikely that police will actually charge the three, given the precedent it would set for people hiring vehicles. Police frequently detain activists over minor infractions in order to diminish the ability of radical groups to mobilise and also in the hope that arrested activists may break during the long periods of detention. Despite the ageing of its membership, Chūkaku-ha remains a particular target not least due to its recent inroads in the student movement, especially in Kyoto, and for long-running cases such as the fugitive Masaaki Ōsaka.
We have seen similar kinds of arrests before. In 2015 three activists in Kansai were taken into custody for collecting fees for running a coach service to a protest against the deployment of a missile defence early-warning radar at a US military facility.
Chūkaku-ha has engaged proactively with the nuclear power issue since 2011, not only protesting the restarting of power plants but also the re-opening of a train line running through Fukushima Prefecture.
These three new arrests come just a day after another detention in the anti-nuclear power movement. Taichi Masakiyo, a veteran of the protests and associated with the recently removed protest tents, was arrested in the early hours of January 17th for an apparent arson stunt that slightly damaged a government building. On the afternoon of January 16th, Masakiyo allegedly set fire to a small section of shrubbery outside the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in Kasumigaseki. The 78-year-old Masakiyo, who heads the citizens’ group that organised the anti-nuclear protest tents, admits the allegation but has since remained silent. Supporters are demanding his release and claim the arrest is another frame-up.
The site of the alleged arson was by the entrance to METI, a stone’s throw from where the tents had been erected until last year. The location has become a key gathering place for anti-nuclear demonstrations and continues to attract activists even after the removal of the tents. A few weeks ago, the Buddhist monk protest group JKS47 held a clamorous event in front of the ministry (bonus picture below).