Masaaki Ōsaka breaks silence (and Japanese New Left convention) and admits identity in court

The man identified by police as Masaaki Ōsaka and standing trial for his alleged part in the death of a police officer during the Shibuya Riot Incident in 1971 has broken his silence.

Since his apprehension last year after over four decades on the run, Ōsaka — or the man presumed to be him, identified only by somewhat questionable DNA testing — had refused to speak to police during interrogations or respond during trial proceedings. Known as kanzen mokuhi (or kanmoku), this “total silence” has been a signature tactic of left-wing activists in Japan from the late 1960s and continues to be championed by Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction), the common name for Kakukyōdō (Revolutionary Communist League) and the group to which Ōsaka belongs. It is both a practical convention, in that stoic silence is effectively the only weapon available to a suspect after arrest during the long periods of detention before they are formally indicted — interrogations conducted without a lawyer present and only partially recorded — as well as a form of protest, in that the activist is wordlessly declaring his or her refusal to accept the bourgeois state apparatus that has taken them into custody.

masaaki osaka

Masaaki Ōsaka as he appeared in his wanted poster (left) and when he was paraded on his perp walk in 2017.

At the pretrial arrangement procedures for his first hearing at Tokyo District Court for 26 March, however, Ōsaka confirmed his name with a simple verbal response. His legal team also commented to the press that he now admits his identity. The mainstream Japanese media has quickly pounced on this development, reporting it as a sign that the 68-year-old is co-operating with his trial for the killing of 21-year-old Tsuneo Nakamura during violent protests against the military presence in Okinawa at the height of the Vietnam War. This is surely something of an exaggeration, since the chances of Ōsaka abandoning such a fundamental practice of the New Left, especially for Chūkaku-ha, are practically zero, given his ability to survive decades of an underground existence whereby he could hardly ever go outside (at the risk of belittling the situation, it was surely a life not all that dissimilar to his current fate behind bars in some respects).

Moreover, the Chūkaku-ha organ, Zenshin, tacitly acknowledges that the man on trial is Ōsaka in its regular articles denouncing the charges against him. His identity is not so much the issue as his innocence and the inability of the prosecutors to provide real proof of his guilt, as it does with Fumiaki Hoshino, another veteran Chūkaku-ha activist tried for his alleged role in the death of Nakamura. Hoshino’s case is the subject of an on-going campaign for a retrial and acquittal, given the flimsy evidence that was responsible for his receiving a full-life sentence. His supporters argue that his is an example of wrongful conviction (enzai), recognition of which is growing in Japan following several high-profile instances and recent documentaries on the subject. Given the precedent for convictions in Japan, particularly in political cases, it is very likely that Ōsaka will also to be found guilty of murdering the police officer during the Shibuya riot and, thus, another enzai campaign will begin, calling for a retrial. (My personal stance has always been that I do not know if Hoshino — or, for that matter, Ōsaka — was responsible for the death of Nakamura, since I was not there and am no legal expert, but I do feel strongly that the evidence is highly suspect and that Hoshino’s conviction was politically motivated.)

Chūkaku-ha is a formerly militant far-left group that is today predominantly engaged in peaceful labour activism and student politics. It is the most prominent and energetic of the groups that remain from Japan’s New Left movement, and has mobilised activists many times at rallies and protests in the present wave of demonstrations sparked by the Moritomo cronyism scandal.

WILLIAM ANDREWS

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