Japanese Red Army activist Tsutomu Shirosaki appeals conviction over terrorist attack in Jakarta

The former Japanese Red Army activist Tsutomu Shirosaki has launched an appeal against his conviction for attempted murder.

He was found guilty in a trial at Tokyo District Court related to a May 1986 attack in Jakarta that saw a series of mortars hit the Japanese and United States embassies, though none caused injury or significant damage.

Now aged 70, Shirosaki was given a 12-year sentence in November 2016 at the conclusion of the trial, the first of a far-left activist in Japan for terrorism-related crimes for many years and the first to involve lay judges. Witnesses included the film director and former Japanese Red Army member Masao Adachi.

tsutomu shirosaki deported japan 2015

Notwithstanding the high-profile nature of the trial, the prosecution was undermined by its poor handling of Indonesian witness testimony. As reported in the media at the time, the court translation contained notable errors. These are a key part of Shirosaki’s appeal, which had its hearing on July 18th. Shirosaki’s legal team argues that the approximately 200 mistakes, which were then later corrected, meant the witness could not be adequately questioned. In the hearing, the defence continued to profess Shirosaki’s innocence in the Jakarta incident, while the prosecution asked for the appeal to be thrown out. The appeal ruling is scheduled for September 26th.

Originally a member of Sekigun-ha (Red Army Faction), Shirosaki was serving a prison sentence for the robberies the radical group performed in the early 1970s. He was freed in 1977 in response to the demands of JRA airline hijackers and joined the Japanese based in the Middle East. While police assert he then became an active member of the JRA, supporters claim that he acted independently of Fusako Shigenobu’s group.

He was deported to Japan in February 2015 after his prison term in the United States finished. He had served 18 years for the attack on the US embassy in the Jakarta incident, after his arrest in Nepal and extradition in 1996. In Japan, he was then apprehended upon arrival at Narita Airport and put on trial for the attack on the Japanese embassy.

Incidentally, July 18th also saw the trial of Yōichi Yamada conclude at Kōbe District Court. Yamada is the editor-in-chief of the veteran left-wing newspaper Jimmin Shimbun, which has historical links to the JRA and published its statements for many years. Police raided the newspaper’s office and arrested Yamada in connection to his involvement with Orion no Kai, a support group for Kōzō Okamoto, a former JRA member now living in Beirut. The supporters would regularly circulate funds to Okamoto for his living costs by placing them in a bank account in Japan, which a Lebanon-based supporter then accessed locally by using the account’s ATM card. Police arrested Yamada on fraud charges over a technicality related to the use of a bank account by a third party, though in effect they were penalising him for helping a man still wanted by the Japanese authorities.

Okamoto is most famous as the surviving member of the three-man Japanese commando team that attacked Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion Airport) in 1972 as part of an operation planned by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was later freed from prison in Israel and joined the JRA. He has legal asylum in Lebanon, where he is regarded as a hero by many. However, the years he spent in solitary confinement in Israel gravely affected his mental state and the 70-year-old is unable to care for himself. Okamoto’s treatment in captivity inspired Adachi’s film Prisoner/Terrorist (2007).

Yamada received a one-year sentence (half what the prosecution had called for) and three-year suspended sentence. In the ruling, the judge noted that opening a bank account for the purposes of third party use does fall within the ambit of fraud but in this case the intent cannot be deemed malicious. Yamada and his supporters protested the verdict outside the court. It seems likely that Yamada will appeal.

While the chances of Shirosaki (or Yamada) winning an appeal may seem slim, given the pressure from the state to secure harsh sentences for far-left radicals, it is not unknown for JRA associates to succeed in the courts. Last year, former JRA member Hiroshi Sensui won a lawsuit over the restrictions on his visitation rights in prison.

WILLIAM ANDREWS

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