https://mainichi.jp/articles/20170601/ddm/004/040/016000c Post-War Media History – The Sugou Incident – How Competing News Coverage Revealed Police Malfeasance By Soushi Kawana Before dawn in a quiet mountain village in Kyushu, the sound of an explosion reverberated. On June 2nd 1952, in the village of Sugou in Ooita Prefecture, a beer bottle filled with dynamite was detonated at […]
Post-War Media History – The Sugou Incident – How Competing News Coverage Revealed Police Malfeasance
By Soushi Kawana
Before dawn in a quiet mountain village in Kyushu, the sound of an explosion reverberated. On June 2nd 1952, in the village of Sugou in Ooita Prefecture, a beer bottle filled with dynamite was detonated at a police box. Although no one was injured, for some reason the police had surrounded the police box and were on guard before the explosion. Including two men who were found near the scene of the crime, five Communist Party members were arrested on the same day on suspicion of violating the Explosives Control Act, among other laws. Afterwards, this became known as the Sugou Incident.
It had been 2 years since the the red purge, in which Communist Party members were been driven out of public service. That year was also the year of the Shiratori Incident, in which a Sapporo police officer was murdered, and the May Day Incident, the first student movement incident to result in a death. The police were investigating anyone involved in activities related to the Communist Party. In the middle of all this, came the Sugou Incident.
The Ooita District court found all five defendants guilty, but after an appeal to the Fukuoka High Court, the case developed in an unexpected direction. The defense claimed that a man who called himself Shiragi Haruaki, who was near the scene and then quickly disappeared, had in fact participated in the crime, and they produced a picture of this “Shiragi.”
According to the defense’s account, the man named Shiragi appeared in the village a few months before, began working at the local lumbermill, and had made contact wanting to join the Communist Party. On the day of the incident, he asked the defendants to come to a place close to the scene, after which he entered into a police car and disappeared. In other words, he was surely a police officer who planned to frame the Communist Party members.
In the middle of the Higher Court’s trial in November 1956, two local newspapers, Ooita Shinbun and Ooita Goudou Shinbun, reported that Shiragi was in fact Police Sergeant Koutoku Todaka. With this, the various newspapers began to compete with one another for scoops about the incident. However, the only information available about Police Sergeant Todaka was that he had gone to Tokyo, and so no one could find his whereabouts.
“Sugou Incident Mystery– the Lost Police Officer” Mainichi Shinbun published an article with this headline on the still unsolved case the next year, on March 13th 1957. Using nearly half the third page of the morning edition, Mainichi published an exclusive photo of Todaka. Along with the statements of witnesses, this threw into doubt the statement made by National Police Agency’s Nobuo Yamaguchi at the National Diet, that “Shiragi and Todaka being the same person is unthinkable.”
The same day, the case quickly progressed. A news crew from Kyoudou News found Todaka hiding at an apartment in Shinjuku. They followed him to a nearby bar where they asked him about the case. Although at first he wouldn’t recognize his involvement, the next day he finally acknowledged, “I am Shiragi. I infiltrated the party in order to get closer to them.” Receiving this news sparked a new round of investigations from Mainichi and other papers.
At the Fukuoka High Court, the cross-examination of Todaka as a witness was realized. Wearing glasses and his hair neatly parted, Todaka claimed that he was not at the scene that day, but acknowledged that he himself transported the dynamite and sent a threatening letter to the police box.
On June 9th 1958, the high court overturned the previous ruling and found the defendants innocent. Zenjirou Toshitaka (63), the son of Toshitaka Kiyomoto, one of the attorneys working for the defense at the time, recalls his father saying, “The newspaper companies competed to find and reveal the whereabouts of Todaka. If the media wasn’t around, it would have difficult to overturn the court’s ruling.”
On December 16 1960, the supreme court upheld the high court’s decision. Reporting on the decision in the evening edition of Mainichi, the writer Seichou Matsumoto wrote, “If journalists hadn’t pursued Todaka and forced him into the spotlight, he probably would have remained hidden by the police. […] Seeing such shameless behavior from the police is a fearful sight.”
60 years have passed since the Sugou Incident. The reporter that led the news crew from Kyoudou news, Toshio Minamoto, turned 92 this year. “When authorities pursue justice, it is sometimes the case that under this pretext they use unjust means. Whether it’s the past or today, this doesn’t change. Surveying the authorities and revealing these injustices is the role that journalism plays,” he related forcefully.