Campaigners for the long-imprisoned left-wing activist Fumiaki Hoshino, jailed for the death of a riot police officer at a demonstration in Shibuya in 1971, held a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on 15 March.
In one of the most high-profile showcases to date about the case, two of the prisoner’s counsels as well as Giichi Tsunoda, a former vice chair of the House of Councillors, and Hoshino’s wife, Akiko, spoke with journalists about Hoshino’s treatment in prison, which they denounce as cruel and punitive. The campaigners recently submitted an official complaint to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council about the harsh conditions of Hoshino’s indefinite incarceration, which range from systematic issues, such as a lack of transparency or logic in legal procedures, to the arbitrary or even absurd, such as receiving 20 days of solitary confinement for washing his foot after stepping on a cockroach.
Hoshino’s supporters argue that he is a wrongly convicted political prisoner, found guilt based on dubious evidence and spurious witness confessions by other activists that were extracted under duress and then later retracted. He was convicted and given a full life sentence in the 1980s, which he is serving in Tokushima. Now in his seventies and having spent some 44 years behind bars since his initial arrest in 1975, Hoshino maintains his innocence of the killing.
His prominent role in left-wing student protests organised by Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction) in the late 1960s and early 1970s made him known to police at the time. The so-called Shibuya Riot Incident in November 1971 was one of the final large-scale street actions of its kind during the peak of the New Left mass movements in Japan, bringing out thousands onto the streets of Tokyo to protest the terms of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan that meant the southern prefecture must host numerous United States military bases — a legacy Okinawans continue to live with and struggle against to this day.
Another activist accused of involvement in the death is Masaaki Ōsaka, who was apprehended in 2017 after 45 years on the run. He is currently standing trial over the murder.
The campaigners are fighting for a retrial. That is a on-going endeavour, though there is also hope that Hoshino may be released on parole soon due to his age, even if the political nature of the crime for which he was convicted makes it significantly harder to win early release. The press conference at the FCCJ, which focused mainly on the legal side of the case rather than the political aspects, was particularly timely due to the exposure Japan’s so-called “hostage justice” system has received globally with the apprehension of Carlos Ghosn last year.
The conference (in Japanese with English interpretation) can be watched in full below.
Far from growing weary with age Hoshino’s campaigners, who are organised under the umbrella of the Hoshino Defence Committee, have rather become bolder and better at mobilising their resources. Besides the core team in Tokyo and the legal representatives pursuing the byzantine labour of the retrial application and other legal efforts, the movement is fundamentally a grassroots network of local chapters around Japan, supported by other left-wing organisations and partners in Japan as well as other countries. It has published a book and sends out a regular newspaper. In addition to rallies and marches that attract hundreds of participants, it holds exhibitions of Hoshino’s paintings several times a year, and prints them as an annual calendar that is sold to raise funds for legal costs. The campaign has recently taken out full-page adverts in newspapers to boost awareness of the case. A petition calling for all the evidence in the case to be made public has attracted over 95,000 signatories.
The story of Hoshino and his dedicated wife has also inspired a play by Yōji Sakate, which was first performed in the 2000s and revived last year.