The wanted posters at police substations and train stations around Japan will finally be coming down. Police claim to have confirmed the identity of a suspect as far-left activist Masaaki Ōsaka and re-arrested him on a murder charge.
A man believed to be Masaaki Ōsaka, a member of the far-left Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction), was arrested on May 18th in Hiroshima when police carried out a raid on an alleged base of the radical group to arrest another resident on a minor charge. The tactic paid off, as they were able to nab probably the most wanted man in Japan, who is accused of playing a leading role in the Shibuya Riot Incident in which a 21-year-old police officer was killed during a protest on November 14th, 1971 against the US-Japan Security Treat and the continued occupation of Okinawa.
Last month’s arrest of the far-left radical, who has been a fugitive since 1972 on a variety of charges including murder, was sensational enough in its own right but the announcement, delayed several days after the apprehension ostensibly for obstructing police duties, was fortuitous timing for the government as it pushed through its highly contentious conspiracy bill. It served as a reminder to the public that so-called terrorism and political militants exist in Japan, and that legislation is required to give police more power to ensure citizens’ safety during the 2020 Olympics. Naturally, the media had a ball with the news and has continued to run stories every few days related to the Ōsaka case. One aspect that was ignored, however, was the May 12th arrests of three unionists in Kansai associated with Chūkaku-ha on trespassing charges: the capture of Ōsaka is actually part of a wider, ongoing crackdown on the far-left group.
Following days of speculation about how it would be possible to verify his identity, today police announced that the suspect had been re-arrested for murder and confirmed that he is indeed Ōsaka. Cross-checking DNA with relatives, including his late mother, did not disprove a match and Ōsaka’s sister additionally identified a photograph of the suspect as her brother. This is apparently enough to verify the man in custody as the 67-year-old Ōsaka.
He was then flown from a rainy Osaka, where he had been held since his arrest, to Haneda Airport in Tokyo. During his transfer he was overtly paraded for the cameras of the media, who were eager to get a shot of the fugitive long known only by the surly 1973 black-and-white photo that adorned thousands of wanted posters across Japan. Needless to say, this is surely the most startling perp walk for a political radical since Fusako Shigenobu was taken off a Shinkansen train in 2000, and has generated blanket coverage in the media.
Until now Ōsaka’s last official sighting was in 1973. Police had maintained the hunt for him by constant surveillance of Chūkaku-ha events and activities as well as periodically renewing the campaign with new posters and raiding Chūkaku-ha sites for clues as to his whereabouts. He was placed on the international wanted list in 2010 and a significant award also announced last year, resulting in a major spike in leads from the public.
Ever since the arrest, the man identified as Ōsaka has maintained complete silence in custody, as is typical for detained leftists in Japan. Chūkaku-ha has also denied that the suspect is Ōsaka, whose innocence activists have claimed in multiple articles and videos. The group also staged a protest in the morning of June 7th in front of Tokyo District Court.
The statute of limitations was removed for murder in 2010, meaning Ōsaka can be charged with the killing of police officer Tsuneo Nakamura, who was set upon by a mob of activists armed with pipes and Molotov cocktails. One of those previously arrested and tried for the death was Fumiaki Hoshino, though campaigners have long maintained that he is falsely imprisoned. Another Chūkaku-ha activist, Yukio Okumiyama, was also tried for the killing but proceedings were halted in 1981 due to mental illness, and he passed away earlier this year at the age of 68.