A suspected member of Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction), Yasuyuki Yagi (45), was arrested on April 3rd by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Public Security Bureau for allegedly making a false entry for the address on his driving licence. When he renewed his licence in December 2014, Yagi claimed to live at the Chūkaku-ha headquarters, Zenshin-sha, but police say this is not true, according to a report in the Sankei Shimbun.
While obviously a very minor offence, it is not unknown for Japanese police to take political activists into custody for such trivial violations. This is the case with far-left activists as well as participants in other protest movements, such as those involved in the campaign of civil disobedience against the controversial relocation of Futenma Base to Henoko, Okinawa. Protest leader Hiroji Yamashiro was held for over five months on quite minor charges and only released on bail last month.
Chūkaku-ha is a neo-Marxist group with roots going back to the 1950s. It is one of Japan’s three largest far-left organisations today. Yagi is being investigated, police say, for possible links to Masaaki Ōsaka, one of the most sought-after fugitives in Japan. Police have recently stepped up their hunt for Ōsaka, a Chūkaku-ha activist wanted for alleged participation in the death of a riot police office in a 1971 protest in Shibuya. (Fumiaki Hoshino is also serving a full-life sentence in relation to the same death.) Now in his late sixties, Ōsaka has been on the lam for decades, apparently supported by a network of Chūkaku-ha activists. Police raids of “secret bases” are often attempts to flush out the fugitive or uncover clues as to his whereabouts. Late last year on the anniversary of the death, police announced an increased reward for information leading to Ōsaka’s apprehension. Since the police placed Ōsaka on the public wanted list in 1984 it has received only an average of ten tips per year. After the campaign was renewed in November with 50,000 new posters distributed nationwide and a substantial volume of press coverage, there were 27 tips in just a single month.
The timing of this latest arrest may not be insignificant. Police carefully choose when to make arrests, exploiting their relationship with the mass media so as to push the name of the group into the news again and remind people (including students) that it is “dangerous” and “anti-social”. In April, Chūkaku-ha student activists always have a presence at events at Hōsei University, a traditional Chūkaku-ha stronghold, welcoming new students for the start of the academic year. However, these activists are no longer allowed on campus after the private college, like many others, went to great lengths in the 1990s and 2000s to expunge far-left groups from the premises. The repercussions of this are still felt today as a sustained campaign by the activists denouncing the university for its neoliberal, anti-political measures.
Yagi’s arrest also comes after a string of other recent arrests and raids related to Chūkaku-ha. As a glance at the group’s newspaper, Zenshin, reveals, one or more members is almost always under arrest (their names are typically withheld in the official publicity) somewhere in Japan but very rarely are they actually indicted. Much of the Chūkaku-ha membership is now retirement age and the group gave up militant tactics decades ago.
In January, police arrested anti-nuclear power activists affiliated with Chūkaku-ha on very flimsy charges. They were later released without indictments. In 2015, the Chūkaku-ha base was raided by police over arrests for alleged benefit fraud at a non-profit organisation. Once again, no charges were brought.
Such tactics of applying pressure to far-left groups by arresting suspected members on minor charges, knowing full well that the prosecutor would never take the case to court, is a favourite one of police. The arrests become an excuse to search various sites linked to the group, especially its headquarters, Zenshin-sha, where police hope to find evidence of historic crimes. In addition, the protracted detention periods during which police can hold suspects without charge and without a lawyer present for the lengthy interrogations is a chance to wear activists down and perhaps extract some new information from them.
Earlier this year a member of the Chūkaku-ha Zengakuren student group was arrested for kicking a court official, leading police to search a Kyoto University dormitory. The small yet bullish Zengakuren has been the target of police aggression as its seeks to build up a new student movement at Hōsei, Kyoto, Tōhoku and other universities around Japan. It has launched a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department for alleged assault.
In general, the current wave of arrests and recriminations dates back to around late 2014, when there were three arrests during an annual labour march in central Tokyo. An officer from the security bureau was later rumbled on the campus of Kyoto University and held briefly by students, leading to a tit for tat of raids by police in Kyoto and Tokyo.
Things escalated in 2015 with the protests against the state security bills and then the run-up to the G7 summit in May 2016, which sparked a wider crackdown on what remains of Japan’s ultra-left movement.
With the Conspiracy Bill set to pass the National Diet this year and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo also on the near horizon, police attention on the vestiges of the domestic post-war leftist movement will surely continue to tighten.