Masaki Shimoji, Associate Professor at Hannan University, Department of Economics
January 25, 2013
The story that I am about to tell you may seem unbelievable or hard to understand. Whatever the case may be, many people hearing my story will be wondering: ‘is this really happening in Japan?’
On the morning of 9 December 2012, police arrived at my house and arrested me. When the doorbell rang, my wife peeked outside and saw seven Osaka Prefectural Police officers. Upon opening the door, one of the officers read out the warrant for my arrest, alleging that I was engaged in the ‘forcible obstruction of business’, ‘trespassing’ and ‘violating the Railway Services Act’. I demanded to read the arrest warrant – of course, it detailed the allegations but, as I continued to read the warrant, I unintentionally burst into laughter. Why? Because it was purely a fabrication, concocted to harass me and silence me about grave concerns I have about the management of radiated debris from the earthquake zones surrounding Osaka.
I was finally released on 29 December, after a 20-day detention, having great difficulty imaging what my crimes were, and where all of this would lead to.
First of all, I need to provide a background to why the Osaka Prefectural Police would want to issue a fabricated warrant for my arrest.
I have been involved in the civic action to prevent the City of Osaka from taking part in the so-called ‘nation-wide disposal of debris from the earthquake disaster’ scheme, a scheme that has been vigourously promoted as ‘helping the reconstruction of the devastated areas’ of Fukushima and surrounding areas. I have constantly argued that the scheme benefits only a handful of people with vested interests, and has nothing at all to do with the devastated areas and is certainly detrimental to the people still living in these areas.
I have also been protesting against abuse of police powers, where the police are silencing people that are voicing their opinions about this scheme, illegally arresting demonstrators, closing down legitimate actions of distributing information handbills and, as has happened to me, fabricating evidence against innocent citizens.
I am sorry to say that Japan has reached a stage where anyone who dares to criticise national policy that is detrimental and harmful to its citizens, is silenced by the police and, in some cases, through violent means. It also means that the national government is abrogating its obligation to openly explain to its citizens the exact intentions of its actions. This is of grave concern, not only to the people of Japan but to the international community.
The allegations from the Prefectural Police relate to an incident on 17 October 2012, at the Japan Railway station at Osaka. According to the arrest warrant, I was incriminated for
‘arranging a public meeting in defiance of the repeated warnings from the station staff, and then marched around in the station premises in files which constituted an unauthorised public
demonstration’. However, I addressed the public gathering outside the station and at no time did station staff try to deter me – which, of course, is understandable, considering I was speaking in
a public space.
After addressing this meeting, I walked through the railway station, almost alone and with a bag over my shoulder. Again, there was no interference or interdiction by the station staff because, of course, I was not engaged in any unlawful actions.
All of this could easily be confirmed from the many surveillance cameras installed inside the station but the Prefectural Police insist that there is no footage of me at all, and refuse to table recordings from the cameras as evidence. By refusing to release the footage for inspection, the police are also infringing Japanese law, specifically ‘misfeasance by a special civil servant’.
You may be wondering how long a weak and fabricated allegation can continue within the judicial system but, regrettably, a clear lie cannot be so easily exposed. Even within fabricated
allegations, police statements always sound plausible, and the prosecutors and courts are only too happy to side with the police, hardly hesitating to convict the accused, regardless of how weak
the case against them may be.
The culture of the courts in Japan is such that its tendency is to please the prosecution’s case, rather than the case of an innocent citizen. The court merely rubber stamps the prosecution’s claim, and this results in 99.9 per cent of arrest warrants and extension of detention requests being validated. Of these, 99.9 per cent are found guilty. I don't know of any other judiciary system as legally corrupt as it is in Japan.
So, when the police arrested me, they were very certain that their fabrications would stand, as they always had in the past. Except this time, due to public actions, the arrest and subsequent detention was overturned.
After my arrest, long-term activists drew as much attention as possible from the general public about the corrupt Japanese judiciary system. Many people joined in the protest and 70 constitutional scholars issued a statement outlining their concerns about my case. Over 100 academics organised a petition demanding my release and in quick time, over 10,000 signatures were collected. Messages were also received from overseas, including from prominent anti-nuclear campaigner Ms. Helen Caldicott, and Dr. Sebastian Pflugbeil from the German Society for Radiation Protection.
I was fortunate on this occasion to be released after a 20-day detention. When I was released on 28 December, I was honestly surprised because, up until that moment, I was certain that I would be prosecuted and remain in jail a long period of time. Although I have been released, this decision is not final – it is only a suspended decision that can be reversed at a later time. I have to ensure that the current decision is final and that the same situation cannot happen again, either to me or to anyone else that questions the actions of the state. If we allow this type of situation to escalate, we will soon be living in a society where someone can be incarcerated for twenty years on a similarly flimsy charge.
I was not the only one arrested as a result of the public protest at Osaka station on 17 October. There were two others and one has already been prosecuted in a process that I can only consider to be ‘saving face’ for the police, after having the charges against me overturned. He has also been arrested, and now prosecuted, on fabricated evidence. I will do whatever is in my powers to appeal his conviction and overturn the decision for my compatriot.
What can we do to stop this arbitrary abuse of power by the police and our judiciary? As I have repeatedly pointed out, the police and the prosecution cannot be trusted. And, as an
extension of this, the courts cannot be trusted either.
The state cannot exercise power as it pleases. Japan, supposedly, is not a fascist state and the mandate that it receives comes from its own people. If the state behaves like a rogue and crushes the rights of its people, then it loses the confidence of its citizens and achieves a status where it deserves to be disobeyed.
The only way that we change this system of abuse is to give more people in Japan a better understanding of what is really happening within our judiciary. In this way, we can achieve a situation where the courts will think twice about their actions, if they have an understanding that people will be watching their every move and their final adjudications.
On this occasion, I have been released without prosecution. I was extremely lucky but it took a substantial public outcry to achieve this result. Through my experiences, I have learned how arbitrarily powerful the state can be.
Someone can be incarcerated for three weeks on the flimsiest of evidence. As a result, they could lose their job, or their rented home, without ever knowing when they will be released. They become socially stigmatised and alienated from their community because people believe the charges if someone is silenced and doesn't have the opportunity to adequately put their side of the argument.
If my case had led to a prosecution, I would have to take leave without pay and not give lectures. If my appeal failed and was found guilty, I would have been dismissed from my university.
Given the magnitude of the power of they hold, one would expect the police and the prosecutors to be reasonable and of intelligent mind. One would also expect them to respect human rights and to sincerely reflect upon their conduct and behaviours. Instead, they have chosen to silence critics of the state by destroying their lives and using the system to break their hearts and minds.
This is what is going on in modern Japan. It is highly regrettable, offensive to all reasonable-minded people, and an assault on humanity.
Police interventions in the political activities of citizens have increased significantly in recent times. Our society should be one where we can voice our opinions freely, without
intimidation from the authorities. Keeping quiet about this situation, or turning a blind eye, only emboldens the state to continue with its abhorrent behaviour and abuse of human
This is why we need to raise our voices and shine the light on these abuses whenever we can and wherever they occur.
Some of my current students will have aspirations to work in the police force and, indeed, some of my former students are employed by the Osaka Prefectural Police force. If they read this article, they will be quite shocked and it saddens me that I need to criticise the police in this way.
I can empathise with them for the position that they have been placed in, but I cannot help speaking out and it is unfortunate that they have been involved in the corrupt process of fabricating evidence. Ultimately, they are doing their jobs but it's the same excuse that was used by the military officers during World War II: ‘I was just following orders’.
Finally, I have something to ask of you. I want all the readers of my story to tell as many people as possible about what has happened to me, and what is happening in Japan today. Leaving this issue behind is not an option and history suggests to us that things do not go well if we just leave them alone and hope that they go away. It is indifference that allows the grotesque behaviour to continue to occur.
Tell people. Talk to them. Just remind yourselves that silence supports the oppressors and a vocal voice creates a better society for all. Whatever you can do and whichever actions you take on, I will be truly grateful.
Thank you for reading this and will remain in touch.