The Yokohama Case

JIADEP Note: During the second world war, those who protested the war or openly showed anti-war tendencies were imprisoned. Many were tortured and killed. The legacy of this tragedy continues in the courts even today.


Court ruling gives de facto acquittal to 5 in wartime free speech

(Mainichi Japan) February 4, 2010

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) -- The Yokohama District Court ordered the state on Thursday to pay compensation to the relatives of five now-deceased men for falsely imprisoning them in the "Yokohama Incident," often described as Japan's worst case of repression of free speech during World War II. Thursday's decision is deemed a de facto acquittal because when the court dismissed the retrial case of one of the five in March last year without judging him guilty or not guilty, it said his dignity would be restored if the state compensated him for false imprisonment. The three-judge panel ruled that the wartime "tokko" political police launched a one-sided, speculative investigation that prosecutors and judges endorsed. The police, the prosecution and the court all bear heavy responsibility for the outcome, it said. In the decision, Presiding Judge Takaaki Oshima strongly accused the political police of conducting an "illegal" investigation, including the torture of suspects. The judge ordered the government to pay a total of about 47 million yen to the relatives of the five, as sought by them, under a 1950 criminal compensation law that requires the government to pay compensation to criminal defendants who are found not guilty. The five former defendants were convicted in August-September 1945 of pro-communist activities based on a wartime law called the Peace Preservation Law. They were Yasuhito Ono, an editor at "Kaizo" (reform) magazine, Toru Kimura, an editor at "Chuokoron" (central review) magazine, Toshio Hiradate, a researcher at the now-defunct South Manchuria Railways Co., Eizaburo Kobayashi, an employee of Kaizo publishing house, Hiroshi Yoshida, a former employee of Furukawa Electric Co. The relatives said the case was fabricated by the political police and their confessions were forced using torture. The court dismissed the retrial of Ono in March 2009, without giving any verdict, while the Supreme Court dismissed the retrials of the four others in March 2008. The relatives of the five filed a suit with the district court in April-May last year demanding state compensation of some 47 million yen. The Yokohama Incident refers to a series of repressive measures conducted by political police against more than 60 people who they claimed had published pro-communist articles in the Kaizo magazine during the war. (Mainichi Japan) February 4, 2010


Court terminates retrial for five tortured and convicted in wartime 'Yokohama Incident'

The Asahi Shimbun YOKOHAMA--The Yokohama District Court on Thursday terminated a retrial for five now-deceased people who were arrested, tortured and convicted in the wartime "Yokohama Incident" that suppressed the media's free speech. Presiding Judge Shoichi Matsuo decided not to determine the guilt or innocence of the five because the prewar Peace Preservation Law, on which the convictions were based, no longer exists. The decision deals a blow to bereaved family members who have tried for years to clear the names of those convicted by the same court more than 60 years ago. They and the defense lawyers argued that the five were tortured into confessing that they planned to re-establish the Communist Party, which was outlawed at that time. Judge Matsuo acknowledged that the defendants were tortured during the police interrogations, but he agreed with prosecutors' arguments that the retrial should be discontinued. "It is seriously regrettable that the former defendants had passed away before appearing in the retrial because it took such a long time to reopen the case," Matsuo said. He said the decision to stop the retrial was based not only on the defunct law, but also because original records of the trial and the rulings were discarded after the war ended. In the Yokohama Incident, about 60 people, mainly journalists and publishers, were arrested by special police in Kanagawa Prefecture on suspicion of engaging in communist propaganda and other illegal activities from 1942 through the closing days of World War II. They were accused of violating the Peace Preservation Law, which the government used to clamp down on communists, dissidents and other opponents of Japan's militarism. Four of them died in prison after being tortured, and about 30 were convicted at the Yokohama District Court in August and September 1945, shortly after the war ended. Those convicted and their bereaved family members had been trying since 1986 to clear the names of victims. A total of four requests for a retrial had been made by former convicts and others between 1986 and 2002. But all the people convicted in the Yokohama Incident had died by March 2003. The Yokohama District Court in April 2003 accepted the bereaved family members' request for the retrial of five of those convicted. The Tokyo High Court in March 2005 upheld that decision, saying the credibility of the confessions was quite dubious, and the rulings in 1945 were doubtful. During retrial sessions held in October and December last year, defense lawyers argued that the court should admit that the five had been beaten for hours with bamboo or wooden poles before falsely confessing, and that the Yokohama Incident was filled with fabrications. The lawyers said the court should overturn the convictions, hand down not-guilty verdicts, and admit its role in what was one of the worst cases of free-speech suppression in wartime Japan. "We want (the court) to admit its legal responsibility for handing down the guilty sentences without an adequate trial, in addition to turning down our petitions for a retrial, and to apologize," one of the bereaved family members said during the retrial. Prosecutors asked the court to discontinue the retrial without determining guilt or innocence because the Peace Preservation Law no longer exists.

YOKOHAMA INCIDENT Widow fights on to clear tortured reporter's name Thursday, March 13, 2008


Toru Kimura, convicted of promoting communism during the war in what was known as the Yokohama Incident, poses with his fiancee, Maki, in a Tokyo apartment in February 1992, a month before their wedding. KYODO PHOTO


Maki Kimura's inexhaustible energy in seeking justice in the Yokohama Incident — a still ongoing case of repression of free speech dating back over 60 years — is a reflection of the strong bond she built with her husband during their six years of marriage. News photo Toru Kimura, convicted of promoting communism during the war in what was known as the Yokohama Incident, poses with his fiancee, Maki, in a Tokyo apartment in February 1992, a month before their wedding. KYODO PHOTO The 59-year-old Kimura's husband, Toru, was among 30 people convicted from 1942 to 1945 of promoting communism in violation of a notorious wartime law aimed at stamping out elements opposed to Japanese militarism. He had been seeking a retrial since 1986, arguing the defendants were tortured into falsely confessing that they had plotted to foment communism, counter to the now-defunct Peace Preservation Law. He died in 1998 at age 82, five years before the Yokohama District Court made a landmark decision in April 2003 to retry their case. The Yokohama Incident began with the arrest of Karoku Hosokawa, author of a democracy-advocating article for Kaizo (Reform) magazine, by the special political police created to crack down on leftists and other antigovernment elements. About 60 journalists and others, including Toru Kimura, were subsequently arrested over their alleged involvement in communist activities. His widow, who has been continuing her husband's case since his death, met him in 1989 when she was 40. She had little knowledge of the incident, which is often now referred to as the worst suppression of free speech in wartime Japan. Her encounter with the journalist, which she describes as a "not coincidental, but inevitable" event, changed the course of her life. They married in March 1992, when Toru Kimura was 76 and she was 43. Her marriage to Kimura, who was living alone on a pension after his first wife passed away in 1984, meant another financial burden for her as she was already caring for her parents. As an editor for a publishing company, she worked from morning to midnight to support the family. But neither the age gap nor financial hardship mattered to her. "We were made for each other," she said. Although the two spent less than a decade together, she has devoted all her time and energy for nearly two decades to the battle to clear her husband's name and promote human rights. "It's a little embarrassing to say this, but I simply love the man so much and that love has been my driving force," she said. "Certainly, I have the urge to change society for the better, but that was not in itself enough to keep me going. "I feel like we were together for more than 20 or 30 years," she said. Maki Kimura left the publishing company two years ago and is now living off her savings to concentrate on the retrial of her late husband and four others that is currently before the Supreme Court. The prospects are not good, however, as it seems the top court will uphold the lower court decisions and end the case Friday, since it did not open a public hearing as is usually done when decisions have subsequently been overturned. In February 2006, the Yokohama District Court dismissed the retrial without pronouncing a guilty or not-guilty verdict on grounds that the five were granted amnesty and that the Peace Preservation Law had been abolished. The court also said that termination of the case equally would void their convictions and would not mean they could not recover their lost dignity. The Tokyo High Court upheld the decision. "It sounds as if the court is saying, 'You committed crimes but we will give you mercy by freeing you from criminal procedures,' " Maki Kimura said. "That's totally different from a not-guilty verdict, which we have long sought." Following Hosokawa's arrest, Toru Kimura, an editor at another magazine, was arrested because he happened to appear with Hosokawa and other journalist friends in a photo taken when they went on a vacation. He was 27 at the time. During his time in jail from May 1943 to September 1945, the special police beat him and other detainees with wooden swords and thick ropes until they passed out, according to Kimura's court documents. He was eventually forced to make false confessions and was given a suspended two-year prison term. Kimura was granted amnesty in tandem with the abolition of the Peace Preservation Law in October 1945. But he could not accept the fact that he had been tortured on the basis of wrongful accusations. Along with other victims, he filed charges against the special police involved in violent interrogations that had resulted in four deaths. Three of the officers were convicted in April 1952, but they were pardoned in an amnesty and served not a single day behind bars. Over the years following his own amnesty, Toru Kimura wrote several books about the incident in which he sought to clear his name. Finally, he decided to pursue exoneration through the courts and filed for a retrial in 1986. "What he had wanted to gain by a retrial was not just to vindicate their honor, but to make Japan a society that sees no more wrongful accusations and a country that never wages war," his widow said. She sees her age difference with the Yokohama Incident generation as her strength. "I can serve as a bridge linking generations when all the victims have left this world," she said. "I would like people to know that the incident does not only concern us but also society as a whole." Despite growing pessimism over the top court's likely ruling, she still holds out hope, recalling her memories of a man who had never given up hope no matter what the circumstances.