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Leftist Newspaper Raided by Police

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

Yoichi 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 Kozo Okamoto, the 69-year-old former Japanese Red Army (JRA) member currently living in asylum in Lebanon. The allegation is that the approximately 10 million yen (about US$9,000) 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 totaling some 10 million yen 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 21, officers raided Yamada’s home, the offices of Jimmin Shimbun 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 Shimbun 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 twenty 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, as is typical for arrested left-wing activists in Japan.

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 Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (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 pursued 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 offense, 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 sympathizers in Japan, but also leads to workarounds like Okamoto’s supporters seem to have used.)

Okamoto’s support group, Orion no Kai (Orion Society), issued a statement on November 28 that criticized the police actions as merely a disguised attempt to disrupt their efforts to provide living assistance for Okamoto in Lebanon. The statement noted that such a fraud charge had potential implications for countless numbers of people in Japan, since it is commonplace to give a spare bank card to another person and share access to an account.

The raids and arrest on November 21 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 twelve-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 no surprise, 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.

Founded in Osaka in 1968, Jimmin Shimbun was formerly known as Shin-Sayoku (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.

The editor Yoichi Yamada remains in detention, though no charges have apparently been brought at the current time. His colleagues have managed to publish one issue in his absence, and have appealed internationally in both English and French languages against what they call their “unfair repression” at the hands of the police.

SNA Update: On December 11, Kobe prosecutors charged editor Yoichi Yamada with fraud.

An earlier version of this article appeared at Andrews’ online portal Throw Out Your Books.