It was just over twenty years ago (February 11th 1990) that Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison in South Africa after 27 years behind bars as a political prisoner. His name and the struggle he led for the rights of all South Africans to live equally free and thus peaceful lives has made him known throughout the world. He is perhaps the closest the planet has to a true, international icon of morals, determination and goodness. I’ve never met him or even seen him in the flesh, I would love to but it is looking increasingly unlikely I’ll ever get that chance, so will have to get my audiences with greatness vicariously from here. It’s a fantastic read by the way, about the way we photographers get to sometimes (at JSH’s level anyway) be near amazing people.
I did meet someone amazing last Saturday however, at a labour union demo in Shibuya, and she has an even longer story of incarceration than Mr Mandela to tell. Her name is Akiko Hoshino and she is the wife of someone most people have never heard of (including me until a year or so ago), which is shocking really when you consider he is one of the longest serving political prisoners in the world.
Her husband is called, Fumiaki Hoshino, and he was convicted in 1979 for the killing of a police officer in an anti-war demonstration in Shibuya in 1971. The original sentence was for 20 years but this was extended in 1983 to life imprisonment even though the evidence was primarily confessions that were later retracted when the defendant and witnesses claimed they had been given under duress from the police. There was little or no other physical evidence linking Hoshino to the Molotov cocktail that engulfed the officer or the beating he suffered before that but that doesn’t seem to have mattered, the authorities had , they believed, their man and they have been punishing him for a crime he may not have committed for the last 32 years now.
Japanese police have an unbelievably high conviction rate (over 99% of arrests are followed with a conviction) and many believe this is the result of forced confessions which are in many cases, as in the Hoshino case, the only evidence available. Because a confession carries a lot of weight legally if a defendant appears in court having previously confessed to the crime the judge is more or less there to rubber-stamp sentencing; the proceeding take less time and no-body important is inconvenienced. Of course when truth is railroaded like this, abuses by the police keen to cover up mistakes or ineptitude in the investigation, the subsequent false imprisonment of innocent people will happen. And this is what many in the Free Hoshino campaign think has happened to the husband of the woman above.
I don’t know enough of the case to say what is true or not regarding his guilt but the fact that there is doubt, and the long history of false convictions that the Japanese courts have gained such a bad reputation for make me feel that the name of Fumaiki Hoshino should be better known and people around the world should be asking the Japanese courts some harder and more inconvenient questions.