Ex-mob boss, cop critic sue police, claim freedom of speech violations

by Eric Johnston

OTSU, Shiga Pref. — In what may be the first case of its kind in Japan, a retired yakuza boss and a vocal police critic are suing Shiga Prefectural Police for what they consider a violation of their constitutional rights.

Manabu Miyazaki, a Tokyo-based author who has written extensively on police abuses of power, and Tokutaro Takayama, former head of the Aizu-Kotetsukai syndicate, filed a lawsuit with the Otsu District Court last month charging their rights to freedom of expression and assembly were violated when police pressured a hotel to cancel an event both were due to attend.

While some yakuza groups, including Takayama’s, have sued the government over the 1993 antigang law, Miyazaki said there are no precedents for the specific legal action he and Takayama have filed against the Shiga force.

“Yakuza have a tradition of keeping quiet. But it was time to stand up and say ‘no,’ ” Miyazaki said.

On Dec. 18, Miyazaki and Takayama had planned to speak at the Otsu Prince Hotel at a charity seminar sponsored by Kansho Kayaki, a Buddhist monk. They said the purpose of the event was to raise money for Kayaki and others to gather the ashes of Japanese soldiers who died on Saipan and other islands during World War II.

But on Nov. 24, the hotel received a phone call from Otsu-based detective Ryosuke Hayashi, who, according to the suit, told assistant hotel manager Nobumi Masuda that, although Takayama was retired, he still had a lot of influence and police would have to mobilize in force if the ex-mob boss appeared, possibly upsetting the hotel customers.

Masuda refused to comment on the case. Yoshiko Fujino, a hotel spokeswoman, said that after being contacted by Hayashi, the hotel approached a special committee set up with Kayaki’s assistance to plan the event and asked it to reconsider, citing police concerns. Shortly afterward, the committee decide to cancel the event.

“This is nothing but a forcible obstruction of business by the police. They don’t like me because I’m a critic and they don’t like Takayama because he used to be fourth chairman of the Aizu-Kotetsukai,” Miyazaki said.

Miyazaki and Takayama said they had planned to talk on general religious issues.

“I was going to talk about the involvement of Buddhism in politics, like Sokka Gakkai’s ties with New Komeito, and whether that was good or bad,” Takayama claimed.

The suit charges that police violated several articles of the Constitution, including Article 19, which provides for freedom of thought and conscience, and Article 21, which guarantees freedom of assembly and association, as well as speech and all other forms of expression. It also calls on Shiga Prefecture to pay 10 million yen to each of the plaintiffs in compensation.

“Both Takayama and I spoke at a Kyoto hotel last July without incident. It remains a mystery as to why the Shiga police really went out of their way to put pressure on the hotel to cancel our talk,” Miyazaki said.

This is not the first time Takayama has taken the police to court. He sued the government for damages he claimed resulted from the enactment of the 1993 antigangster law. That case is pending before the Kyoto District Court. The suit charging Shiga police with denying him the right to speak is the first of its kind, he said.

In speculating why police may have put pressure on the hotel, Takayama said it may be related to a broader effort by local cops to ostracize yakuza and take over businesses that have traditionally been run by crime syndicates.

“Yakuza were once very much involved in the pachinko business. But nowadays, most pachinko firms or associations in Shiga are run or managed by retired police officers,” Takayama said.

Shiga police would not comment on these claims by either Takayama or Miyazaki, and Hayashi was unavailable for comment. A police spokesman, who refused to be identified, said police contacted the Otsu Prince Hotel out of concern for public safety.

“The Shiga police did not violate anyone’s constitutional rights,” the spokesman said.

But Kayaki said it was clear police issued a threat to the inn and to his group.

“Police have too much control. What’s needed is an independent authority to check their power,” he said.

The first court hearing is set for Jan. 19, and both Takayama and Miyazaki expect the case will drag on for some time. However, they feel that they have to prove a larger point.

“We have a good Constitution in letter. But that doesn’t help us realize a democratic society in substance as long as we live with the police system as it is. It’s the duty of the people to maintain these freedoms and rights, no matter who they are,” Miyazaki said.

If the plaintiffs win, Miyazaki predicted that other yakuza groups, which have been quiet so far, could become more vocal.

“It’s possible some yakuza in western Japan could file similar suits charging specific constitutional violations. But there would probably be only a few cases. I don’t see a rush to litigation by yakuza,” he said.