On January 29th Kyoto police arrested a member of the Chūkaku-ha Zengakuren student group on suspicion of interfering with the duties of a public official. The 25-year-old Hiroaki Aono from Tōhoku University, a stronghold of the far-left faction, is accused of kicking a 40-year-old court security guard at a courthouse in Kyoto on March 14th, 2016, when the guard was attempting to make the activist leave the court on the orders of the judge.
Such arrests for minor offences many months prior are typical tactics employed by Japanese police with political activists. This may be because activists lead underground lives and only show up in public occasionally, or because police keep a “hoard” of old offences which they can draw on to arrest activists at various times in an attempt to break them during the protracted periods of detention police are entitled to hold people without charge in Japan. These arrests also almost always allow police to gain search warrants for raiding facilities associated with radical groups, which might turn up evidence in connection to long-standing and more serious crimes.
And as if following a script, that is precisely what happened this time. On January 31st scores of police in riot gear raided Kyoto University’s Kumano Dormitory, which is seen as a bastion for Chūkaku-ha student activism and where Aono is alleged to be based. Zenshin-sha, the Chūkaku-ha headquarters located in east Tokyo, was also inevitably raided by police. All this show of force was ostensibly in relation to the kicking incident, though quite what officers hoped to find to help them indict Aono is highly debatable.
Aono will probably be held for the full period of detention (23 days), during which he almost certainly say nothing to police as per the standard far-left modus operandi when arrested. After this, he may be re-arrested on a different charge or released. An indictment over such a minor incident is unlikely.
This is just the latest in a series of recent examples of increasing police pressure on Chūkaku-ha and its feisty, though small, student group, which is primarily based at Hōsei and Kyoto universities.
Though its roots go back much further, the current campaign has intensified since around 2014. A police officer attempted to infiltrate the campus of Kyoto University in late 2014 following three arrests in central Tokyo during a protest march, only to be rumbled and briefly held by students.
In 2015 student activists were arrested (but not charged) not on suspicion of confining a fellow activist, whom they had exposed as an alleged police spy. A “strike” that same year at Kyoto University resulted in six arrests (but again, not indictments) and suspensions. (It was at the court proceedings for disclosing the grounds for detaining these six activists that Aono allegedly kicked the security guard. Aono had been ordered to leave the courtroom for disrupting proceedings by shouting out.)
In almost all these cases, the arrests sparked follow-up actions: police raids on Zenshin-sha and dormitories such as Kumano, which has acquired something of an anti-establishment reputation regardless of its Chūkaku-ha connections.
Zengakuren has launched a law suit against the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department after its officers allegedly assaulted activists arriving for a rally last year. This latest “crackdown” may even be a kind of revenge for this legal action, though the excessive methods of the police here are not necessarily anything unusual.
In fact, police attention on Chūkaku-ha is a given due to its extensive record for protests against the state that in the past included violence. Just last month, three members of a Chūkaku-ha affiliate group were arrested, as always on trivial charges that can never realistically be pursued (in this case, hiring a car and splitting the costs).
As the 2020 Olympics draw closer, we can expect police to amplify its oppressive tactics on all domestic far-left groups, much as it did in the lead-up to the G7 summit last year. Alongside Chūkaku-ha, one of the largest remaining far-left factions is Kakumaru-ha, which police also perennially harass, as we saw recently with fresh raids on the radical group’s sites that apparently revealed the real name of its leader.