Incarceration of Left-wing Japanese Newspaper Editor Sparks Fears of Threat to Free Speech

Japan Jinmin Shimbun Peoples News

Police raid the offices of Jimmin Shimbun (The Peoples News) on November 24. Photo sourced from Jimmin Shimbun’s Twitter account.

On November 21, in the Hyogo prefecture of Kansai region of Japan’s main island, Honshu, police raided the office of Jimmin Shimbun (The People’s News), one of Japan’s most established left-wing newspapers, and arrested Yamada Yoichi, the editor-in-chief, on suspicion of fraud. He was then formally indicted on December 12. As of December 28, Yamada remains detained by Hyogo police.

The raid has stoked fears that a contentious, vaguely-defined new ‘conspiracy law’ is being used to stifle freedom of expression, and also highlights a still-vibrant left-wing political scene in Japan with links to radical groups from the 1960s and 1970s.

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 in the building where the newspaper operates. Jimmin Shimbun reported that all of its computers were seized, along with other documents, and that the editor’s residence along with two other locations in Tokyo were also raided.

Supporters of Jimmin Shimbun also claim that police who spoke with tenants in the building attempted to create an impression of the newspaper as a dangerous or illegal organization.

Jimmin Shimbun has protested the police raids and the detainment of its chief editor and has initiated various online campaigns to highlight what happened. It also issued a call for police officers who participated in the raid to be identified online.

【拡散】これが人民新聞を家宅捜索、編集長を逮捕、住民を検問した兵庫県警公安三課です。顔を覚えて抗議の集中を http://pic.twitter.com/H6Bh0gsR78

— 人民新聞(編集長不当逮捕許さない) (@jimminshimbun) November 22, 2017

[Share this] Jimmin Shimbun premises searched, editor arrested, citizens questioned by members of the Hyogo prefectural public safety division. Remember these faces, and let’s fight back against (this group).

Is Japan’s new “conspiracy law” being used to crack down on freedom of speech?

Following Yamada’s arrest, a petition was quickly launched on Change.org calling on the National Police Agency to release the editor. Aside from calling for Yamada’s release, the petition highlights the perceived threat posed by Japan’s recently enacted and highly contentiousconspiracy law” (known in Japan as 共謀罪, or kyogizai) and a “crackdown” on anti-government voices.

The petition notes:

We are very concerned that these types of suppression against citizens by the police will expand. The whole purpose of [the conspiracy law] is to repress citizen movement and the press. We consider that the police has now begun to apply this conspiracy law on innocent citizens.

Yamada’s arrest was reported in some mainstream Japanese sources, although coverage of events since the raid in late November has mostly been limited to left-leaning and sympathetic media publications, and by the Jimmin Shimbun itself. Despite the loss of its equipment in the police raid, Jimmin Shimbun has continued to publish three editions of the newspaper a month.

Founded in Osaka in 1968 as Shinsayoku (The New Left), Jimmin Shimbun adopted its current name in 1976. The various Marxist factions that once wreaked havoc around Japan’s university campuses are now a mere shadow of their former selves as membership declines.

Over the course of its history, the newspaper’s pages have carried announcements and statements from the Japanese Red Army (JRA), a Marxist militant group formed in 1971, and it even published an anthology of the JRA’s propaganda texts in 1979.

Though independent and unaffiliated with a specific leftist faction, the newspaper’s historical and present links to the JRA have meant police regard it as a hub for sympathizers.

In fact, Jimmin Shimbun is just one example of a vibrant subculture of gazettes, newsletters, journals and newspapers published by an array of political groups in Japan sold at specialist bookstores and distributed among activists.

The scholar Wesley Sasaki-Uemura has described these as “micro-publics” that started to emerge after the failure of the 1960 protests against the US-Japan security treaty. However, the existence of publications like Jimmin Shimbun is proof that there is still a small but active left-wing community in Japan.

Raid linked to funds used to support former Japanese Red Army member now living in Lebanon

The allegations against Yamada that justified the raid involve a bank account he opened under his own name in February 2012. Yamada was provided with two bank cards for the account, and authorities allege Yamada used the account to receive funds donated by a network devoted to supporting Okamoto Kozo, a 70-year-old former Japanese Red Army member who now lives in Beirut, Lebanon.

Police say that almost all of the approximately 10 million yen (about $88,000 USD) placed in the account since it was opened was withdrawn in Lebanon with one of the bank cards, and used by people caring for Okamoto in Lebanon. While Okamoto is still wanted by police in Japan, he was granted legal asylum by the Lebanese government in 2000.

現在も逃亡中のメンバー

■佐々木規夫、奥平純三

佐々木隊として活動中。

■坂東國男、大道寺あや子

坂東隊として活動中。

■岡本公三

レバノンに亡命中。

■松田久

重信房子の側近だったが、重信逮捕後の動向は不明。

■仁平映

消息不明。 http://pic.twitter.com/vt5bhCrB6n

— 日本赤軍bot (@JapanRedArmyBot) July 5, 2017

A typical “most-wanted” poster of Japanese Red Army members; some are still at large, while the whereabouts of others is unknown or may have deceased. Okamoto is pictured bottom-right.

Okamoto went to Lebanon in the early 1970s to join up with the nascent Japanese Red Army, then a loose circle of volunteers under the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He is the sole living member of the Japanese group who attacked Lod Airport (Ben Gurion Airport) in Israel in May 1972. The attack killed 28 people, including his two Japanese comrades.

Okamoto was captured by the Israeli armed forces and kept in solitary confinement for several years, during which he had a nervous breakdown. He was released in a prisoner exchange in the 1980s and was later arrested in Beirut in 1997 and put on trial with several peers for visa violations.

Ultimately Okamoto was allowed to stay in Lebanon as a political exile after his fellow defendants were extradited to Japan in 2000. Orion no Kai (Orion Group) was then formed by supporters in Japan to fund his living costs.

In addition to Okamoto, a handful of ex-members of the now-disbanded JRA remain at large, presumably overseas, and their faces are a common sight on wanted posters at police substations around Japan. For the JRA’s various associates residing domestically, surveillance is an accepted fact of life.

However, the arrest of the Jimmin Shimbum editor and the raid on its office indicates that the police will now exploit opportunities to crack down on left-wing press publications and prevent them from disseminating information.

Fraudulent charges mask freedom of speech crackdowns

Critics of the raid and Yamada’s arrest believe Yamada was targeted as a supporter of former JRA affiliate Okamoto. They that the fraud charge was a convenient excuse to raid the newspaper and steal its list of subscribers.

Police looking ahead to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics intend to keep tabs on past leftists, much as they did in the run-up to the G7 summit in 2016.

人民新聞の編集長が不当逮捕され、起訴されました。詐欺罪で。でも被害者はいません。これは言論弾圧です。暖房のない寒い拘置所へ移送されるそうです。何もしてないのに何ヶ月も出れない。嘘ばかりの詐欺軍団の安倍政権やレイプ犯山口を逮捕したらどうなんだ!#人民新聞#ヤバすぎる緊急事態条項

— marumaru (@marumaruzun) December 12, 2017

The chief editor of Jimmin Shimbun has been unjustly arrested and indicted for fraud. However, there is no victim at all. Instead, (Yamada’s arrest) is suppression of speech. Yamada has been taken to a cold cell with no heater. He hasn’t done anything wrong, and yet will be detained for several months. Instead it’s the lying Abe clique […] that should be arrested!

As of December 29, Yamada remains detained by Japanese police as prosecutors build a case against him. Jimmin Shimbun supporters have held events and protests outside the police station in Hyogo where Yamada is confined.

While some might say the left-wing newspaper is a relic from another era, Jimmin Shimbun epitomizes the feisty voice of veteran left-wing activism in Japan that is accustomed to confronting the state.

Written by William Andrews, Nevin Thompson · comments (0)
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What Russian Journalists Uncovered About Russian Election Meddling

thanks – aleksey godin

Much of 2017 was consumed with untangling the political mess that was 2016 and Russia’s role in it. Much of what we learned came from  American journalists, who brought us revelation after revelation about how the Kremlin meddled in the presidential election. Through these reporters’ domestic sources—in the White House, Congress, and the intelligence community—we learned how Russians bought Facebook ads aimed at sowing division; how Russian government agencies hacked the Democratic National Committee and congressional races; how Russians loosely affiliated with the Kremlin reached out to the Trump campaign; and how the Kremlin turned the popular Kaspersky Labs anti-virus software into a spying tool.

Very little information came from the other side—from Russian journalists. Arguably, we learned far more from their stories about Russian campaign interference than from American news stories. Yet you can count on one hand the stories about it published in Russian media.

Here’s a rundown of what we learned from the Russian press this year:

  • In an updated edition of their book, The Red Web, Russian journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan—veteran reporters on the Russian secret services—revealed how and when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the attack on the American election. It happened, according to Soldatov and Borogan, at a meeting in April between Putin and a small inner circle of his national security advisors, most of them former KGB officers. Putin’s decision was also reportedly an emotional, knee-jerk one, in retaliation to the release of the Panama Papers, which implicated him. Because of Putin’s highly conspirological mindset, he apparently blamed Goldman Sachs and Hillary Clinton for the release of the embarrassing information, Soldatov and Borogan reported.
  • An October report from the Russian business media outlet RBC explained in great detail how the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, also known as the “troll factory,” operated during the 2016 election. The report, authored by two Russian journalists, detailed the funding, budget, operating methods, and tactics, of the 100 trolls who spent 2016 populating American social media sites with divisive commentary and imitating civil rights groups. The report showed how the Agency was financed through its owner, Putin’s court caterer Yevgeny Prigozhin. It also detailed the reach of various politically inflammatory posts. It showed, for example, how the Agency produced over 20 Facebook posts that gathered over a million unique views each.
  • That same month, TVRain, Russia’s last independent television network, interviewed “Maxim,” a man who had worked as a troll at this factory. He revealed that the factory was largely staffed by college students from the prestigious St. Petersburg State University, Russia’s #2 university; their majors included international relations, linguistics, and journalism. They were, in other words, young, educated, worldly, and urban—the very cohort Americans imagine would rise up against someone like Putin. Instead, they worked in the factory, making nearly double the average Russian’s salary, sowing discord on Twitter, Facebook, and in the comments sections of various websites. They were instructed not to mention Russia, but instead to focus on issues that divided Americans, like guns and race. They learned their subject matter by reading Americans’ social media posts and by watching House of Cards, effectively weaponizing American culture and openness.
  • Last week, TVRain ran a written interview with Konstantin Kozlovsky, who is currently in a Russian prison for hacking into various Russian banks. He confessed to hacking the DNC and to creating the viruses Lurk and Wanna Cry, the latter of which is responsible for a ransomware attack that paralyzed computer networks across the world. Kozlovsky told the journalists how he had been entrapped and blackmailed into working for the FSB, the main Russian security agency, nearly a decade ago. He said that when he hacked into the servers of the DNC, he purposely left behind a calling card: a data file with the number of his visa to the Caribbean Island of St. Martin, as well as his passport number. Kozlovsky also said that he was arrested now because the FSB wanted “to hide the digital traces” of what he did. (It’s worth noting that many of these claims are unverified.)
  • Earlier this month, the Bell, a scrappy upstart website based outside of Russia, published a detailed exposé by the legendary Russian investigative journalist Svetlana Reiter about the four Russian men—two of them high-ranking FSB cyber warriors—arrested in Moscow last December in connection with the 2016 election hack. Reiter delved into the mystery of why the men were charged with, of all things, passing information to the CIA about the Russian cyber-attack. According to Reiter, they had been set up by a rival faction in Russian military intelligence, the GRU. The rivalry, which Soldatov and Borogan had also reported on, centered on securing both the prestige and budgetary funds that came with penetrating U.S. government cyber-defenses. This had previously been the exclusive domain of the FSB—once run by Putin—and the GRU was trying to muscle in on the FSB’s territory and money. A side effect of this internal rivalry, Reiter concluded, was how the Americans discovered the hack.

Why has there been so little reporting on Russian election interference coming out of the place that perpetrated it? For one thing, the Russian security services and the Kremlin do not leak, at least not nearly as much as their American counterparts, and they are suspicious of Western journalists, of whom there are fewer and fewer these days. Russian government officials also “don’t like talking to independent journalists, but they’re still better to talk to than to American journalists,” said Liza Osetinskaya, a legendary Russian editor who now runs The Bell.

The problem is that independent journalism in Russia has been decimated. Even if those on the inside are willing to talk to a local journalist, there are fewer and fewer of them around. After returning to the Kremlin for a third term, Putin cracked down on the independent press. The Kremlin put pressure on the businessmen who owned these media outlets, as well as on advertisers and cable and satellite networks to squeeze the space in which independent media had flourished during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency. Several outlets were shut down, and people like Osetinskaya were pushed out by business owners wary of Kremlin pressure, in favor of more loyal, and less enterprising, editorial teams.

Osetinskaya, who oversaw investigations of Putin’s family’s wealth, was pushed out of the more mainstream RBC, and now runs The Bell from the Bay Area with a skeleton crew of reporters and editors scattered all over the world. It’s no coincidence that it was this outlet that produced such a detailed and explosive report. TVRain, which broke two of the stories summarized above, was nearly shuttered under Kremlin pressure in 2014. Instead, it was left for dead as an online-only channel. Its reach, along with its advertising revenue, and, consequently, its salaries, are a fraction of what they were just five years ago.

Facing this kind of political and economic pressure, many of Russia’s journalists—many of them among the country’s best—either left home or abandoned the profession altogether. This is apparently the case with the journalists who published the RBC report on the troll factory: After receiving threats, they left journalism. What we are witnessing “is the last phase of the death of independent Russian media,” Galina Timchenko said at last summer’s Aspen Ideas Festival. She is another well-known Russian editor forced out under Kremlin pressure. She now runs the independent Meduza from Latvia. It has a fraction of the reach of the outlet she ran for a decade, Lenta.ru.

The squelching of press freedom and the shuttering of independent media abroad is, in other words, not an academic matter. As 2017 has shown, when these voices are silenced, we know far less than we need about vital national security interests. If the violation of an abstract principle doesn’t bother you, its very concrete repercussions should.