THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
July 17, 2019 at 14:25 JST
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with a member of the crowd in Sapporo’s Chuo Ward on July 15. (Toru Saito)
SAPPORO--Police officers abruptly plucked two citizens out of a venue where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was stumping here after they began jeering him, an action that could be an abuse of power, according to legal experts.
Though the Hokkaido police said officers warned the protesters before they were removed, many reporters covering the event said they heard no such warning.
Takaaki Matsumiya, a criminal law professor at Ritsumeikan University’s graduate school, said how police handled the matter raises doubts about their political neutrality.
The incident occurred in front of JR Sapporo Station around 4:40 p.m. on July 15.
Right after Abe appeared on a campaign truck to give a speech for a candidate running on his Liberal Democratic Party’s ticket for the July 21 Upper House election, a man in a crowd of spectators about 20 meters across the road began shouting at him.
“Abe should quit and go home,” the man chanted.
Five or six uniformed and plainclothes policemen who were guarding the venue immediately surrounded the man and pulled him back dozens of meters, holding onto his clothes and body.
When a woman yelled, “I'm against the tax hike,” in response to Abe speaking on the issue of the national pension plan, she, too, was mobbed by five or six officers before being pulled to the back of the crowd.
The prime minister’s speech was not interrupted by either heckler.
Hokkaido police’s security division later said officers gave warnings to the two citizens.
“Police did call out to them to warn them in order to prevent trouble and as their action was likely to obstruct free elections under the Public Offices Election Law,” a police official said.
The law prescribes interruption of speech as an example of obstruction of free elections.
According to a 1948 Supreme Court ruling, interrupting a campaign speech is an act that makes it impossible or difficult for crowds to hear it.
Matsumiya said a member of the audience heckling in their own voice, without relying on a microphone, could not be classified as an interruption of speech.
“Judicial precedents show that the action of creating a ruckus and making a huge noise with a sound truck at the speech venue are interruptions of speech,” he said.
The professor also questioned the legality of officers removing citizens, citing the possibility that they abused their authority as special public officers under the Criminal Law.
“Their political neutrality has been called into question,” he said.
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