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Questions raised over police removal of jeerers at Japan PM Abe's campaign speech

A woman, third from left, is restrained by plainclothes police officers after shouting, "No tax raise!" in Sapporo's Chuo Ward on July 15, 2019. (Mainichi/Hiroaki Kishikawa)

SAPPORO -- Several citizens were forcibly removed by police after they jeered at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his campaign speech here on July 15, prompting experts to question the move as excessive security measures.

The citizens were shouting comments such as "Resign, Abe!" when the prime minister was delivering a speech in support of a candidate running in the House of Councillors election in the Chuo Ward of Sapporo, the capital of the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido. Even though the jeerers did not enter into any trouble with supporters of Abe, nor was his speech interrupted by the jeering, Hokkaido Prefectural Police officers removed them.

"Our response was appropriate as it was intended to prevent trouble," said an official with the prefectural police's security department. However, an expert raised questions about the law enforcers' move, commenting, "I find it excessive security."

On the day, Abe appeared atop a campaign car in front of JR Sapporo Station at around 4:30 p.m. and began his speech, as his supporters raised placards reading, "We support Prime Minister Abe." Shortly afterward, a young man repeatedly yelled, "Resign, Abe!" from several dozen meters away. He was soon surrounded by several police officers on guard and was taken away to a rear area.

A woman who shouted, "No tax raise!" was also besieged by several plainclothes police officers and got into a scuffle. She was eventually removed.

Prior to these events, a young man jeered loudly at Prime Minister Abe as he trotted along an underpass in the city. The man was forced to move dozens of meters away by several plainclothes police officers.

When Abe gave a speech from atop a campaign car in a busy quarter of the city, a middle-aged or older man yelled, "Go home, Abe!" Supporters of Abe responded by shouting, "You go home." While a tumultuous atmosphere enveloped the area, police officers just watched over the developments.

Regarding the forcible removal of several citizens, the prefectural police's security department explained that they took the steps because the citizens were agitated and yelled time and again.

"We called on them to move as there were concerns they could get into trouble with other members of the audience, but they didn't comply," said an official with the security department, adding that the removal was part of regular police activities. With regard to a question of whether the citizens' behavior obstructed freedom of election campaigns in violation of the Public Offices Election Act, the official said the police are confirming the matter.

"We urged them to move, not with the Public Offices Election Act in mind. It wasn't that we removed them just because they were jeering," the official said.

Toru Ino, a lawyer belonging to the Sapporo Bar Association, commented after watching footage of the police activities in question. "Members of the audience are allowed to act and speak within the bounds of decency, and there needs to be reasonable grounds to forcibly remove them," he said. "In this particular case, I find no grounds to say there was an atmosphere of conflict about to erupt with the audience trying to grab someone, and I think the removal was excessive security."

(Japanese original by Hiroaki Kishikawa and Chie Yamashita, Hokkaido News Department)

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