Former Japanese Red Army member Hiroshi Sensui has won a lawsuit brought against the Japanese government over restrictions on his visitation rights.
Sensui, now aged 80, was not denied meetings with seven acquaintances, so they sued for compensation, claiming the enforced isolation caused mental anguish. The suit demanded a total of ¥10 million for Sensui, who is serving a full-life sentence in a prison in Gifu Prefecture for a robbery and murder carried out in 1960, and his supporters.
On October 5th, the Nagoya High Court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs, ordering the state to pay ¥470,000 to Sensui and the seven who wanted to visit him. The plaintiffs had appealed, after the first hearing at Gifu District Court called for a payment of compensation of only ¥200,000.
The judge ruled that the current law allows wider contact for prisoners with the outside world, as opposed to previous legislation that strictly limited visitation rights for non-family members. (Often convicts would get around this through marriage or adoption, allowing them to see members of their support network.) The prisoner and his supporters were banned from meeting or even corresponding between August 2010 and the following January, even though they had hitherto done so without objection from the prison wardens. The first ruling by the Gifu court only recognised compensation for the interruption to the correspondence rights. Though admitting that the ban had been legal, the Nagoya High Court judge said that there were no rational grounds for denying visits between Sensui and these acquaintances. He ordered compensation of between ¥30,000 and ¥55,000 to be paid in compensation to Sensui and the seven supporters, with the exception of one person who did not have identification.
The small yet notable victory indicates that, though the state has handed down punitive sentences to people who were involved with the now-disbanded Japanese Red Army, such as Tsutomu Shirosaki just last year, there are still legal recourses available for the most dogged.
Sensui was freed in an extralegal process following the hijacking of a JAL airliner by the Japanese Red Army in 1977. The plane was forced to land in Dhaka and the hijackers made demands for several imprisoned colleagues and other people to be flown out of Japan. The government complied and all those who agreed to go were permitted to leave. (Among those freed was Yukiko Ekita, who was recently released after serving her sentence.) Sensui was not a member of the New Left or then associated with radical politics, and the JRA’s request surprised many. However, he had actually helped set up a prisoners’ union behind bars with Akira Nihei, who was also released during the Dhaka incident and remains at large, and came to know various convicts involved with radical activism. (Another main figure behind the union, which seems still to exist, was Masanori Wakamiya, a Sekigun-ha radical with a truly fascinating story of his own. But that’s one for another day.) It is believed that Sensui may have had trouble adjusting to life after he was welcomed into the JRA’s base in the Middle East, and was possibly expelled or left for the Philippines of his own accord, where he was apprehended in 1988 and returned to Japan to serve out his original sentence.
These kinds of lawsuits are pursued by the plucky support networks of former radicals in Japan more as ways to make a symbolic protest than for the monetary reward, which is often negligible after such a long legal process. For example, the support group for the Chūkaku-ha activist Fumiaki Hoshino, who is serving a full-life sentence for his alleged part in the death of a police officer during the Shibuya Riot Incident in November 1971, has previously launched suits related to the extreme censoring of letters between Hoshino and his wife, as well as the loss of key video evidence that, his lawyers claim, provides further proof of his innocence.