Two Zengakuren activists at Kyoto University arrested as police increase pressure on student politics

Police have arrested two activists at Kyoto University linked to far-left group Chūkaku-ha’s student organisation, Zengakuren, after security guards were allegedly touched and kicked during scuffles with activists on campus earlier this year.

On October 31st, a 21-year-old fourth-year literature student at Kyoto University and a 27-year-old activist who is a former graduate student at the college were arrested on charges of interfering with duties. This is typical of the kind of minor offence exploited to arrest left-wing activists in Japan, hold them in detention punitively for weeks without indictment, and then more often than not release them without charge. Police also carried out raids on October 31st at five locations, including the university’s Kumano Dormitory while in full riot gear.

The charges relate to two incidents in August in which the men made physical contact with security personnel on campus. One is alleged to have pressed down on the neck of a security guard who was trying to stop him from handing out leaflets, while the other is said to have kicked a security guard who was removing a wooden sign made by the activists. (A video shared on Twitter by the Hōsei University Bunka Renmei group appears to show one of the incidents.) This is a standard practice: police hold onto evidence of a minor crime and then wait until a seemingly opportune moment to arrest the suspect. Activists, however, merely see this as further proof of their victimisation by the police, state and university. The usual tactic they employ is to maintain complete silence during the entire period of detention.

The Kyoto University branch of Zengakuren — not officially recognised by the college — is Dōgakukai and strives to re-politicise the campus through a series of protests and even a short strike. These activities have been effectively prohibited by the university and the students arrested and expelled.

A particular site of contention has been the large signboards with political messages that student activists erect around the campus, a practice with a long precedent at Kyoto and other colleges but which is being quashed in an effort to sanitise universities. Students in Japan will certainly be confronted by an array of signs about clubs and various campus activities, but rarely political slogans. The same thing happened at Hōsei in the late 2000s, which sparked an ongoing tit for tat in the struggle over the signboards and the right to disseminate political messages.

zengakuren kyoto university arrests students

Kumano Dormitory has become a site of frequent police raids in recent years due to its links to Dōgakukai. Just this year, for example, the arrest of a Zengakuren activist in Kyoto sparked a raid on the student facility. This is commonly done with an exaggerated show of manpower in an apparent attempt to signify activism and student leftist politics as “illegal”, “dangerous” and “anti-social”.

In general, police and university pressure has increased in Kyoto in an effort to stamp out the boisterous fringe group, just as Hōsei University has spent years fighting its own Zengakuren cell. (Hōsei, however, is a private university and thus able to impose harsher controls over the campus than Kyoto University, which is one of the oldest and most respected public higher education institutions.) Dōgakukai has responded energetically (and with parody) to the oppression, regularly holding small protests in which the activists are outnumbered by the police officers and administrators in attendance.

This week’s tidings come just days after the head of Zengakuren campaigned, unsuccessfully, in last month’s lower house election for a seat in Tokyo and prior to a major annual rally in Hibiya this weekend by Dōrō-Chiba, a labour union associated with Chūkaku-ha and Zengakuren. It was after this rally in 2014 that the current conflict at Kyoto University intensified when activists were arrested during the march and then a police officer was rumbled on the campus.

Police also continue to take an interest in nabbing the senior generation of Chūkaku-ha activists for trivial reasons. A 54-year-old man from Matsusaka City in Mie Prefecture was arrested on October 26th on suspicion of fraud and violating traffic laws. He is accused of driving without a licence and not paying for a train ticket. The allegations relate to an incident on August 30th when the man bought a train ticket for ¥150 and rode from Nagoya Station to Matsusaka Station on the Kintetsu Line. He failed to pay the required difference of ¥670 when he left the station. He is also accused of driving a truck in Mie Prefecture on August 17th and September 13th without the correct licence. All of this was ominously reported in a short article in the Sankei without any mention of the insignificance of the crime, but rather due emphasis placed on the perpetrator’s links to a political group and how his movements were related to his radicalism.


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