Forty Eight Years Since Sayama and
the Hundredth Anniversary of the "High Treason Incident"
Ishikawa Kazuo is Innocent
by Koyanagi Nobuaki
This past January was the 100th anniversary of the "High Treason Incident," for which 12 persons were executed. This would at first glance seem to have no relevance to the kidnapping and murder of a high school girl of 48 years ago, known as the "Sayama Incident," but in reality there are some important parallels between the two.
The "High Treason Incident" occurred in May of 1910, when 26 anarchists led by Kotoku Shusui were arrested and charged with planning to assassinate the Emperor Meiji. The court system then was a bit different than it is today, but the trial was carried out in a special court in the equivalent in that day of the Supreme Court. It lasted less than a month, with the decision being handed down on January 18, 2011. Of the 26 defendants, 24 were given the death sentence, including Kotoku Shusui, Kanno Sugako, Miyashita Takichi and Oishi Seinosuke, who were considered the leaders, with the other 2 getting prison sentences. Of those sentenced to death, 12 were given a kind of pardon by Emperor Meiji to have their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment, but the others were executed, beginning with Kotoku and 10 others on Jan. 24th and ending with Kanno on the 25th.
Not one witness was presented at the trial, which was held behind closed doors, and so it was truly a "trial in the dark." Hiranuma Kiichiro was in charge of prosecuting the trial, and as the result of the praise he received, he was promoted to Minister of Justice, and then in 1939, he became Prime Minister. After the war, he was prosecuted and convicted as a Class A war criminal.
In 1963, one of the defendants, Sakamoto Seima, petitioned for a retrial, but that was denied in Dec. 1965, and then his appeal of that decision was likewise denied on July 3, 1967. One thing that became clear after the war was that while four defendants, including Miyashita Taikichi, were likely involved in an assassination conspiracy, it appears unlikely that Kotoku Shusui and 21 others were even involved at all.
So, as we look back on this "High Treason Incident," we can see some remarkable similarity to Ishikawa Kazuo and the Sayama Incident — most notably the oppression of the court system, as is represented in Hiranuma Kiichiro. It would seem that in the eyes of the court, there is no relationship between protecting the State and protecting the lives of its people.
Ishikawa Kazuo was arrested on trumped up charges as the suspect in the Sayama Incident on May 23, 1963, and for the past 47 years, he has continued to proclaim his innocence.
Shortly prior to this, there was a separate crime that occurred and that served as the backdrop for Sayama. Known as the "Yoshinobu kidnapping and murder incident," this crime occurred on March 31, but the police were not able to find and arrest the culprit. Thus, in order to make amends for their own bungling of that case, the police chief called for his forces to make sure they got a "live culprit" for the Sayama case. As a result, the police decided to focus their efforts on the people of the discriminated-against buraku in Sayama. They first arrested Ishikawa on an unrelated charge on May 23, 1963, and for almost a month, they interrogated Ishikawa, who denied any involvement. Then, upon "releasing" him on June 17, they immediately rearrested him as the murder suspect. Continuing their draconian interrogation, they finally got him to sign a "confession" on July 9, and then indicted him for murder.
One of the major factors in this saga was that because Ishikawa Kazuo was born into a family in the discriminated-against buraku, he was very poor and had little opportunity to receive even a basic education. In regards to this, I want to introduce two specific points, namely his lack of knowledge and his illiteracy.
When he was arrested, Ishikawa was not even able to clearly understand whether it was the police or his lawyer that was on his side. He ended up believing the words of a policeman he had played empty-lot baseball with, while rejecting the words of the lawyer. He didn't doubt the promise of the police that if he would agree to the confession, even if the death penalty were pronounced, he would be released after 10 years. He had been told by the investigators that his brother was involved and that since his brother's arrest would mean that his family would have no income at all (since his brother was the only one with a job), his family would suffer. Thus, through such skillful manipulation, the police convinced Ishikawa to "take the fall." So, believing what the police had said, he agreed to plead guilty at his trial (which ran from Sept. 4, 1963 to March 11, 1964), and so even when the death sentence was read, he still thought he would be okay. The police and prosecutors took advantage of Ishikawa's ignorance, and so he easily fell into their trap.
He finally realized that the police's promise was a lie while he was in the Tokyo detention facility and his case was on appeal. His fellow inmates told him that the death penalty is just that, and that the "ten years" was a lie. So, it was when Ishikawa realized that he had been tricked that his struggle began. It officially began with his appeal of innocence at the first hearing at the Tokyo High Court on Sept. 9, 1964.
The person who worked in the background to support Ishikawa's appeal was actually a prison guard at the detention center. He made great efforts to teach Ishikawa how to read and write in order to be able to protest his innocence to society. Ishikawa had only sporadically attended elementary school as a child, and his writing ability was so low that he couldn't even write his name properly. The last character in his name Kazuo is a difficult character, but because his name could also be written with a much simpler character, he used that one instead. (Ed. note: The same Japanese name when rendered in the English alphabet can often be written with a variety of character combinations.) In fact, that is the name he signed when he was asked to copy the original ransom letter that had been delivered to the house of the girl who was kidnapped and killed. It doesn't take an expert to see that they are clearly very different. In fact, Ishikawa simply did not have the skills then to even be able to write a ransom note like that, which would only be possible for someone with considerable education.
Nevertheless, the High Court refused to even direct the prosecution to open up to examination the numerous pieces of evidence they were hiding from the defense, and thus Ishikawa's testimony was ignored and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Likewise, his further appeals for a retrial were also rebuffed.
The police, the prosecutors and the courts have continued to maintain their conclusion, which was based on the premise of protecting the authority of the state. Hiding under the surface, one can see arrogance of the power of the state, as it implied that it saved Ishikawa's life by commuting the original sentence from death to life imprisonment. Their actions in Ishikawa's case for these past 47 years are the same as those taken in Sakamoto Seima's postwar appeal for a retrial in the "High Treason Incident." Only if they finally grant Ishikawa the retrial he seeks, will the story end differently.
There are, fortunately, signs of hope, as the prosecution has finally and reluctantly produced some of the evidence it has held all these years. Primary among these are some things Ishikawa was forced to write down after his arrest, which are clearly very different from the writing in the original ransom note he supposedly had written. The testimony of a writing expert isn't even necessary to conclude that the writer of the ransom note could not have been Ishikawa, as anybody can clearly see that. So, even just this one piece of evidence is sufficient to prove that Ishikawa is innocent.
In considering what the rationale was for the prosecution to knowingly hide this conclusive evidence for 47 years, for the police to fabricate a false confession, and for the court to sentence Ishikawa to death and then to life imprisonment, and for him to spend 32 years in prison, one is brought back to the "High Treason Incident" of 100 years ago.
The High Treason Incident and the Sayama Incident are both "crimes of authority" born out of the same mold, even though one was under the Meiji Imperial Constitution and the other under the present constitution. One used the oppression of socialists to bolster the emperor system while the other was rooted in the prejudicial attitudes of society against buraku people, but they both were unforgiveable crimes perpetrated by the police, public prosecutors and the courts to bolster the prestige of the state.
If the Japanese Court is truly going to uphold Article 32 of the Japanese Constitution, which is the right to trial, they simply must recognize the directive given to the Japan government in 1998 by the United Nations based upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stated that the prosecution must present the evidence it holds to the defense for examination. This is the quickest way for Ishikawa Kazuo to get his day in court. It is the first step in getting the retrial he has been denied all these years.