Veteran leftist newspaper Jimmin Shimbun raided by police, publisher arrested for alleged links to fugitive Japanese Red Army member Kōzō Okamoto

Hyōgo police raided the offices of veteran leftist publication Jimmin Shimbun (People’s News) on November 21st, also arresting the head of the publisher on suspicion of fraud.

Yōichi Yamada (60) is alleged to have opened a bank account under his own name for a third party. Yamada is connected with the support network for Kōzō Okamoto, the 69-year-old former Japanese Red Army member currently living in asylum in Lebanon. The allegation is that the approximately ¥10 million put in Yamada’s bank account was actually used almost entirely by people looking after Okamoto in Beirut.

Police claim that Yamada opened the account in around February 2012 under his name, receiving two bank cards for it. Until September this year, money totalling some ¥10 million was then transferred into the account from another account with his name or one in the name of a support group. A card for the account was apparently used at ATMs in Lebanon to withdraw the money for Okamoto.

On the morning of November 21st, officers raided Yamada’s home, the offices of Jimmin Shinbum in Ibaraki City, Osaka, and other locations, ostensibly to search for information on where the card was sent (in other words, Okamoto’s whereabouts in Beirut). Not surprisingly, Jimmin Shinbum responded vociferously to the raids and arrest, denouncing them as an attack on press freedom. In an official statement published on its website, the newspaper said that the raid involved over 20 officers, who refused to show a warrant and questioned residents of the same building as the newspaper’s office. They say that all its computers were seized, along with other documents, and, given that two sites even in Tokyo were also raided, note the implications of the newly passed conspiracy law on the civil society in Japan.

According to media reports, Yamada is maintaining silence in detention (kanmoku), as is typical for arrested left-wing activists in Japan.

jimmin shimbun newspaper raid police japan

Photograph of the raid via Jimmin Shimbun Twitter account

Okamoto is the sole surviving operative of the Lod Airport attack in 1972. Following his capture by the Israelis, he was held in solitary confinement for several years and suffered permanent mental trauma. He was arrested in Beirut in 1997 with several other JRA associates. Put on trial and convicted of visa violations, he was allowed to stay in Lebanon after finishing his sentence due to his status as a hero for the Palestinians liberation movement. The others, including the film-maker Masao Adachi, were deported back to Japan and arrested again on new charges.

Today he lives under the protection of the PFLP, and is unable to earn a living for himself. As such, his supporters in Japan do fundraising and send him money on a regular basis. Along with the other main members of the now disbanded JRA, however, Okamoto is still wanted by Japanese police and his face is included in wanted posters at police stations around the country. Consorting with him or any other fugitive abroad is thus a potential criminal offence, or otherwise the police may seize upon an alternative minor infraction as a means to apprehend supporters and raid sites in their search for information. (Wiring money overseas in Japan is a complicated process that invariably involves the sender declaring the purpose of the money. This is a measure put in place by banks and the government to combat the financing of the North Korean regime by sympathisers in Japan, but also leads to workarounds like Okamoto’s supporters seem to have used.)

The raids and arrest on November 21st indicate that Japan remains committed to tying up the loose ends of its New Left past. Police continue to monitor the activities of former JRA members and their supporters in the hope of catching the final fugitives. In late 2016, JRA associate Tsutomu Shirosaki was given a 12-year sentence for his alleged part in an embassy attack in the 1980s, following his deportation from the United States. As such, a crackdown on an alleged supporter of the JRA is nothing surprising, but the use of this as a pretext to raid an established publication, remove its equipment and effectively prevent it from disseminating information is far more serious.

jimmin shimbun newspaper raid police japan

Founded in Osaka in 1968, Jimmin Shimbun was formerly known as Shinsayoku (The New Left) until 1976, indicating its close links with the height of leftist social movements in Japan. Though nominally independent, it had a reputation for publishing many announcements and statements from the early Japanese Red Army, and also released an anthology of the JRA’s propaganda in 1979. It continues to publish three times a month.

There were once many such publications and small publishers in Japan, though the overall decline of the New Left has resulted in only a limited number of hard-core examples today. One of the most reliably interesting is Jōkyō. These magazines and journals, along with newsletters and party organs, can be found at Mosakusha, a counterculture book shop and clearinghouse in Shinjuku.

WILLIAM ANDREWS

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