YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) The Yokohama District Court dismissed on Monday a retrial for a deceased journalist who was convicted in 1945 in the Yokohama Incident, considered Japan’s worst case of wartime repression of free speech.
The court passed no judgment on whether Yasuhito Ono was guilty of promoting communism in violation of a wartime law aimed at cracking down on communists, antiwar activists and subversive activities in the name of preserving law and order.
The court had “no other choice but to dismiss the case” because it is obliged to terminate deliberations in the event that a penalty is abolished or amnesty is granted, presiding Judge Takaaki Oshima said, drawing on a Supreme Court ruling as precedent.
The Supreme Court decided in March 2008 to terminate a retrial, without issuing a verdict, of another five men also convicted under the wartime law.
However, the Yokohama District Court acknowledged that dismissal of the case would not help Ono’s relatives reinstate his honor, while suggesting they could restore his reputation by seeking redress from the government.
The decision comes 64 years after Ono, an editorial staff member of Kaizo (Reform) magazine, was convicted in September 1945 of breaking the Peace Preservation Law.
The focal point of the case was whether the lower court would hand down a not-guilty verdict and hold the past judicial system responsible, a tack Oshima avoided.
During a one-day session in mid-February, lawyers for the Ono side sought an acquittal. Ono’s two offspring showed video footage illustrating how their father and many others, all of whom are now dead, were tortured by special police into making false confessions.
Shinichi Ono, 62, read his father’s oral statement, in which he said he had confessed out of fear of further torture. Yasuhito Ono’s daughter, Nobuko Saito, 59, read a testimonial statement written by her now-deceased mother, Sada.
Prosecutors asked that the court dismiss the case because the law and the charges involved are no longer on the books.
In its decision to retry the case last October, the district court expressed doubt about the credibility of Ono’s confession, determining the statement offered “new evidence that could help the court hand down a not-guilty verdict.”
“The then district court may have gotten rid of documents that contain inconvenient facts,” the court said in October, adding it saw the trial back in 1945 as “based on rough and sloppy procedures.”
Ono was among 60 people arrested between 1942 and 1945 for breaking the Peace Preservation Law, of whom around 30 were convicted.
While he and others convicted in the case were granted amnesty after the law was abolished in 1945, his two children petitioned for the retrial in March 2002 with the district court, which accepted the motion last October.
Ono was arrested in 1943 for publishing an article promoting communism and was given a suspended two-year prison term in September 1945. He died in January 1959 at age 50.
The Yokohama Incident refers to a series of repressive measures carried out by the special police against more than 60 people who allegedly published procommunist articles in Kaizo during the war.
Among them about 30 were tried under the old Code of Criminal Procedure and found guilty of violating the Peace Preservation Law.
Most were convicted shortly after the war ended and four died during the investigation, apparently from torture.
“The court ruling is regrettable. However, considering the previous Supreme Court ruling, the district court judgment could also be evaluated as having done the best it could do,” said Takashi Okawa, a lawyer representing Ono’s family.
At a news conference after the court proceedings, Ono’s son and daughter also expressed regret, with his son saying he was “filled with resentment.”
They said they will accept the ruling as final and will now pursue redress from the government.
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