Left-wing political activist Fumiaki Hoshino passes away after nearly 44 years behind bars

The left-wing political activist Fumiaki Hoshino passed away on 30 May at the age of 73.

Regarded by some as a political prisoner, Hoshino was recently revealed to have liver cancer and moved suddenly — and without advance notification to his family — from a prison in Tokushima where he was serving his sentence to a medical treatment centre in Akishima, Tokyo. There he underwent surgery, which initially appeared to go well, but his health then deteriorated and he did not recover.

He was imprisoned for the death of a police officer in the so-called Shibuya Riot Incident of November 1971, when a left-wing faction protested the terms of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan. Already a veteran anti-war activist from the campus struggle at Takasaki City University of Economics and against the construction of Narita Airport, Hoshino was leading a group of Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction) peers that became involved in a violent clash with police officers, during which one was killed. He was arrested in August 1975 and initially received a 20-year sentence in 1979. Hoshino always maintained his innocence but upon appeal a guilty verdict was returned in 1983, along with an even harsher, full-life sentence. This was confirmed in 1987 and the appeal for a third trial rejected by the Supreme Court. He was then transferred to a prison in Tokushima.

fumiaki hoshino activist japanese chukakuha zengakuren

The evidence in the trial was based largely on the testimony of apparent witnesses — fellow activists who made statements during interrogations but which were later retracted. (By contrast, Hoshino was a exemplum of the stoic New Left policy of not speaking or co-operating during police interrogations or investigations.) Asserting wrongful conviction (enzai), Hoshino’s defence argued that there were various elements in the evidence and testimony contradicted by Hoshino’s clothing on the day and his position in the march in relation to where the incident took place.

His family and supporters first started campaigning for a retrial in 1996 and have continued to hold regular demonstrations and rallies in Tokyo and Toshima which attracted hundreds of people. Alongside calling for all evidence in his case to be disclosed, they were also collecting signatories for a long-running petition as well as pursuing legal action over censorship of letters between Hoshino and his wife, Akiko, who he married in 1986. The campaign, organised as the main Hoshino Defence Committee and a grassroots network of local branches, recently applied for early release due to Hoshino’s age and health, though this was rejected, and took out full-page newspaper ads to raise awareness of the case. It also made an official complaint to the United Nations about his treatment in prison.

Conditions behind bars in Japan are harsh, with no heating during winter nor air-conditioning during the humid summer. Hoshino also had his privileges removed for very minor offences in a series of occasions over the years that supporters believe were punitive because of his retrial efforts and political background. They recently held a press conference at the FCCJ to share their views about Hoshino’s indefinite detention.

In prison, Hoshino was a prolific painter and the Hoshino Defence Committee and its various regional chapters often held exhibitions of his work around the country. The latest is scheduled to take place next month in a city in Saitama Prefecture. I have long followed the movement, writing about it here and elsewhere, and it is one of the most impressive examples of the shienkai or kyūenkai support groups for legal defendants — and a prominent part of what scholar Patricia Steinhoff calls “Japan’s invisible civil society”. A protest was also scheduled to take place in central Tokyo in Hibiya and around the Ministry of Justice in early July, though may not now go ahead.

Many others were arrested in connection with the death of the police officer during the Shibuya Riot Incident, including Masaaki Ōsaka, who was apprehended in 2017 after 45 years on the run and is currently standing trial.


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