YOKOHAMA – The Yokohama District Court accepted on Tuesday a petition for the retrial of a case involving repression of journalists and other people during World War II, after rejecting two previous petitions.
The case is widely known as the Yokohama Incident.
It comprised a series of repressive actions by special police against more than 60 people for allegedly publishing procommunist articles in a magazine called Kaizo. None of the five defendants who were demanding the retrial are still alive.
About 30 people were indicted on charges of violating the Peace Preservation Law, with most of them receiving two-year prison terms, suspended for three years, shortly after the end of the war.
The families of the five deceased defendants filed the third petition for a retrial in August 1998. The five were convicted after Aug. 14, 1945, when Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration to officially end the war.
In handing down the decision, presiding Judge Hiroshi Yamura said two provisions in the Peace Preservation Law that applied to the five former defendants were rendered ineffective with the acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration.
Yamura also said the charges should be dismissed as prosecutors had no authority to file indictments.
There are four cases in which courts can rule the prosecutors have no authority to indict, one of them being when a law is abolished after the alleged crime is committed.
This provision would cover the Yokohama Incident, as the five were convicted between Aug. 29 and Sept. 15, 1945, and the Peace Preservation Law was abolished in October that year.
Tuesday’s decision came 58 years after the five were convicted, with the court likely to dismiss the convictions on the grounds that the prosecutors had no authority to indict.
The last surviving defendant, Shosaku Itai, died of pneumonia March 31 at the age of 86.
“It would be unbearable if my life ended with me still being branded as a criminal,” he said before his death.
The court emphasized, however, that the ruling does not automatically mean the defendants were innocent.
Following the decision, officials of the Yokohama District Public Prosecutor’s Office said they plan to file an appeal immediately.
The lawyers for the petitioners said the decision is epoch-making, adding that a retrial would shed further light on the incident. Maki Kimura, 54, the widow of defendant Toru Kimura, said she felt for the first time that the court had made a humane decision, and expressed hope it would be the starting point in the restoration of the honor of the five. Her husband died in 1998 at age 82.When filing the earlier petitions, the defendants and the families said the police fabricated the incident by torturing the defendants. The third petition focused on the legal system at the time of the conviction. Makoto Oishi, a professor at Kyoto University and a constitutional expert, submitted testimony to the district court, saying the law had been effectively nullified by Japan’s acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration. Based on this testimony, the lawyers for the petitioners argued that the court’s previous rejections of the petitions were invalid as they were based on the nullified law and the court should have reached a verdict of not guilty or dismissed the case. The prosecutors had argued that the law was valid until it was abolished by an Imperial ordinance issued in October 1945.
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