PNS: Deaths of unknown persons in the custody of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police: At least 5 in past year


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Deaths of unknown persons in the custody of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police
Edwin Stamm, Progressive News Service, Tokyo, March 9, 2015
Special to
A troubling pattern of deaths of suspects in police custody is emerging in Tokyo, Japan. At least five people have died in police custody in the last year, with little publicity or investigation. The names of the victims have not apparently been released, which puts Japan at odds with international norms of transparency and police accountability.
  • Unknown man arrested May 12, 2014 in Meguro Ward
A 37 year-old male in a state of mental confusion was subdued in a hotel room at about 2:35 a.m. after reports that he was shouting and throwing things. He soon had a heart attack and was transported to a hospital, where he was confirmed dead at about 10:55 p.m. Police suspect drugs were involved.
精神錯乱状態の男性、警官保護後に死亡 都内ホテル、室内に粉末も
産経ニュース2014.5.12 18:54 [Sankei News]*
Original story appears to be gone, but is reproduced here:
  • Unknown man arrested May 25, 2014 in Shinjuku
A 30 year-old man who was found lying on the street in Nishi Shinjuku at about 6:30 p.m. having convulsions was taken to a police station instead of to the hospital. His hands and feet were bound and his entire body was wrapped in a mat. After about 30 minutes “his condition worsened” so an ambulance was called. He died at the hospital on May 27th at about 5:30 p.m.
TBS系(JNN) 528()623分配信
Original story is gone, but is reproduced here:
  • Unknown man arrested May 31, 2014 in Konan
In response to reports of a man yelling and running around without clothes, at about 4 p.m. police from the Takanawa Police Station arrested a 37 year old, unemployed man. He was restrained and wrapped in a protective sheet. He was then held in a patrol car for about 25 minutes. Just before being placed into a “special detention room”, police noticed that the man had gone limp and stopped breathing. He died at around 7:40 p.m. that evening.
Original story appears to be gone, but is reproduced here:
  • Unknown man arrested August 25, 2014 in Shinagawa
An unemployed 47 year-old man was arrested at a supermarket by four police officers. He was bound hand and foot, wrapped in a sheet, and transported face down to the Osaki Police Station. When the prisoner arrived in the interrogation room, it was discovered that he was unconscious and he was taken to the hospital, where he died on September 3, 2014.
2014.9.4 18:21 傷害容疑で逮捕の容疑者死亡 危険ドラッグ店のカード所持 警視庁、死因など調べる
  • Unknown man arrested February 11, 2015 in Akasaka
Police were called when a “violently agitated foreigner” was observed in Akasaka. Six police officers from the Akasaka Police Station subdued the man, who then went into cardiac arrest and was taken to a hospital, where he remained in a coma until he died on March 1, 2015. Police say there was no evidence of any physical trauma. He was 29 years-old American citizen employed as an English teacher who lived in Setagaya Ward. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government and U.S. Embassy have not responded to requests for additional information.
same story reproduced by Wall Street Journal – Japan edition:
English news sources:
Tokyo Reporter:
Tokyo Weekender:

41 comments on “PNS: Deaths of unknown persons in the custody of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police: At least 5 in past year

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Clearly (unless you are an apologist), there is a problem with police procedure, and or training.
    Being naked, noisy, or disruptive is not a death sentence offense in other first world nations.

  • I must ask, not in the purpose of excusing, but what of the treatment of Japanese victims? Is there a difference? I’m curious if this is just horribly crappy police work and poor journalism, or if it is selective of minorities.

  • baudrillard says:

    Kempeitai stealth version? We have predicted it on this site- as an increasingly irrelevant Japan internationally can only enforce its wishlist of rightism/post fascism on NJs living in Japan.

    A couple of years ago on this site it was predicted that life for the NJ would become increasingly harder- now it seems to the point of death and disappearance.

  • So, other than awareness… what is actually being done about this? What groups are giving support? Any sorts of organized campaign about this sort of suspicious and inept police work?

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Hate to say this, but it smells like drugs so called “危険ドラッグ” that is getting hard to detect by traditional autopsy method. I wonder how this will affect police investigation procedure which is already under question.

    — Not sure I follow what you’re saying…

  • Sorry, I’m going to play Devil’s advocate.

    First of all, you’re cherry picking 5 cases out of how many (we have small n but we don’t have big N, the population of all the foreigners (?) brought in by the police)?

    I’m not excusing this behavior, but it appears like many of them had pre-existing conditions or were intoxicated by some sort of narcotic.

    Additionally, I think it’s a stretch to say that this is just an issue foreigners are dealing with.

    I’m all for fighting the good fight, but I’m not entirely sure we could extrapolate much information from this sample. These are unfortunate incidents, but out of a country of 126+ million people, there are bound to be incidents like these. Simply stating “These deaths were caused by inappropriate police tactics” is simply incorrect.

    — What would be a large enough sample size for you? One million deaths at the hands of the police? But then that would still be less than one percent of the population, which the Devil will still argue is statistically insignificant. Not the way to deal with human rights issues, particularly as relates to minorities (who will always by definition be statistically small because they are not the majority).

  • I assume the first four people mentioned above are Japanese nationals, since no nationality is given in the Japanese news stories. Only the last of these five was identified as an American citizen. Still no idea who this guy was. If you hear of someone looking for a 29 year old American guy who lived in Setagaya, but who mysteriously disappeared, please have them post the name here.

  • Loverilakkuma says:


    What I meant is that there is possibility that some of those categorized under the umbrella term of “危険ドラッグ” might be designed specifically in a way that they could not be detected under ordinary medical diagnosis or conventional drug test. Just like HGH or biogenesis-related PEDs which Barry Bonds have used for his bulky muscles on the upper body. If that is the case, it will likely embolden the Team NPA’s defense from the accusation of failing accountability by giving them a very convenient excuse for slacking operation on crime investigation and medical toxicology.

  • I think part of what is going on is due to cultural differences – in Japan it is considered extremely shameful to be arrested by the police, so not releasing the names of suspects is probably to protect the suspects’ privacy and to not shame their families. But in most democratic countries (by which I mean those with civil liberties), to not release the name of a suspect who dies in police custody suggests a cover-up or raises concern about people being “disappeared” by the police for political reasons. It makes a difference if the person who died was a murder suspect, or a local average Joe with no record, or an activist priest, for example. I told the Japanese activists that not releasing these names would be impossible in the EU or US, and they were surprised to hear that. Their primary concern is that people are dying in or on the way to these “special detention rooms” for resisting prisoners, no so much getting the names released.

  • But clearly these efforts complement one another. As you can see from the cases of people being shot in the U.S., having a name, a bio and a picture of the person who was killed makes them a human being who people can relate to, and who they are more likely to have sympathy for.

  • It’s not “me”, but statistics. Typically you can’t estimate things without have a relatively large “n”, something near 1000. That would include both Japanese and foreigners who have been rounded up by the police.

    Since I think the statistics are available online, there are probably thousands of people who have been rounded up by the police. So we have p.hat = 5/1000 = .005 (which represents the total number of deaths caused by police out of 1000 roundups). Additionally, we can calculate the standard error of said p.hat = square root of ((p(1-p))/n) = .0022.

    Now we want to know if there is some sort of issue with the police rounding up people and inflicting harm.

    Let our null hypothesis H0: mu = 0 (no difference), versus HA: mu not equal to 0.

    Computing a 95% confidence interval assuming roundups are normally distributed, we have

    .005 +- (1.96)(.0022) = [.0006, .0093]

    So it’s pretty weak evidence based off of a sample size of 1000 people rounded up by the police, and it’s really reaching to say that there is some sort of underlying racism that led to their deaths.

    I’m usually a big fan of your posts, but this is no better than the typically drivel I see on MSNBC.

    — Fair enough. But a substantiated incident (or five) is nonetheless a substantiated incident, and merits mention for the record here on our way to the ideal sample size of 1000 (which obviously, due to the sensitive and secretive nature of the topic being surveyed, is going to be hard to achieve). Further, this article is written by Edwin Stamm and the conclusions are his. Feel free to dispute them, but are you disputing the data as well or just the conclusions?

  • @Andrew

    Does it matter if only 1 person dies at the hands of the police or 1000? Doesn’t it STILL warrant a proper investigation?? Maybe his death was justified, maybe it wasn’t. How will we know without a proper investigation?? Obviously the police aren’t going to admit any liability, so where’s the independent investigative report??

    Your numbers mean nothing. So even if 1 person out of 130 million die at the hands of the police, and that person happens to be your son, would you be satisfied with the “report” given so far?

  • Sorry I haven’t responded, have been busy.

    I’m not aware of what the specific claims are, but if they are “Japanese police treatment of foreigners leads to their death”, we have a minimal amount of evidence to support that claim (and that’s with the assumption that the five people who died were all non-Japanese).

    I’m all for fighting the good fight against institutionalized racism, but this is weak evidence.

    And to the poster above me, I think you’re acting irrational. 1 person out of 130 million? That would mean only 3 people would have died in the US when being brought in to police custody. We have the Eric Garner case and probably hundreds other like it every year, yet we’re going to cast stones at the Japanese police because a total of 5 people may have died from some underlying health condition?

    I think an investigation is warranted in all cases, but you may be looking for a boogey man that doesn’t exist.

    — By saying “weak evidence”, does this mean you’re questioning the validity of the data as well as its interpretation? Answer that please.

    Furthermore, who in this blog entry has decried this as “institutionalized racism”? (Or “underlying racism”, or even “racism” at all?) Only you. So who’s making the fallacious attributions here?

    There’s Devil’s Advocacy, and then there’s trolling. So please answer that question and then we’ll conclude your point. (Busy or not, if you don’t answer at all, your IP goes in the spam filter.)

  • Sorry, I was responding to the individual freaking out about 1 death in 130 million. I would think with ISIS and the other issues around the world we would be able to keep things in perspective.

    Yes the evidence would be weak if we simply had 5 deaths out of 1000 (at a 95% confidence level). Additionally, Japan may be at odds with international norms, but I would think China, South Korea, and many other Southeast Asian countries are worse offenders of human rights.

    I think banning me would be a big mistake. You would definitely lose someone who supports your overall mission of equal rights for non-Japanese citizens while they are lawful visa holders working in Japan.

    — And yet you keep putting words in other people’s mouths and won’t answer straight questions. As you still have not above. Not the sort of person we want hanging around here at Dissent is fine. But only if you’re willing to help us all search for the truth, including if necessary conceding points to the opposition (such as saying the data is fine but the conclusions drawn from it are not, which you still don’t seem to be able to do).

    Anyway your point is taken about the lack of generizability based upon the data as presented, so we’ll draw that bit to a close. Comment again when you’re willing to be less antagonistic. Besides, if being banned from for trolling is the reason you decide not to support the overall mission of equal rights for NJ, then your support for the movement (especially when its outcomes affect you far beyond this website) wasn’t all that strong in the first place.

  • Loverilakkuma says:


    Your argument just sounds like pro-charter school advocates who suggest that recent news of charters scandals and vouchers scams are no big deal simply because they are insufficient in statistics. And your insinuation on people “freaking out about 1 in 130 million” and your bogus hypothesis of “5 in 1000” pretty much resemble the attitudes of state education department and pro-privatization team working in data mining sector and high-stake standardized testing. Like some bystanders who have no accountability (by sending their kids to charters and private schools) mock at parents and teachers for joining in Opt-Out movement against Common Core Tests.

  • The point I’m trying to make is that people are dying and being injured in police custody, and that we don’t even know who these people are. “Whatever happened to John?” “I dunno, maybe he went home? Sort of strange that he left without even saying goodbye.”

    It’s up to about 3 people per day in the U.S. apparently, but at least we know who these people were and these deaths usually receive a lot of press coverage, which is not the case in Japan, which is frankly spooky:

  • May be unnecessary to restate again, but the non-argument “China, South Korea, etc. have it too / are even worse” has to be the worst telltale sign of an apologist mindset.
    And it doesn’t help Japan’s case at all – because one of the reasons Japanese culture is as xenophobic as it is, lies in its belief that it is superior to all others, and especially other Asian cultures. Now, if an apologists admits to realities the non-apologists have long discovered, it becomes simply affirmation you’re wrong.

    Another thing is that I think it’s not fair to compare Japan to the US only. Sure, many expats in Japan are US citizens who only know these two countries well, but I think it is fairer to hold Japan up to the average standard of the Western world, which Japan deems itself vastly superior to.

    So, if police brutality is a problem in the US, then it’s still not fair to judge Japan by the US standard. Why not judge it by the Swiss, or Canadian, or Finnish standard?

  • So, police have no problem releasing the name of a Canadian accused of flashing girls in Niigata. He denies he did that, and he’s not convicted yet. If he’s innocent, they’ve now ruined his name in Japan and around the world. Could he ever get a teaching job again?

    Meanwhile, police won’t release name of US teacher who died in their hands.

    NIIGATA (TR) – Niigata Prefectural Police on early Sunday morning arrested a Canadian male for exposing himself to two women in Niigata City’s Konan Ward. The suspect is believed to have also been involved in a series of similar incidents, reports the NHK (March 6).

    At just 12:20 a.m., Steve Pankhurst, a 38-year-old English teacher at Niigata Meikun Junior and Senior High School, revealed the lower half of his body to the women, both of whom are in their 30s, near JR Kameda Station before fleeing the scene. The suspect was later apprehended by police near the station.

    Pankhurst, who has been charged with public indecency, has reportedly denied the allegations. “(The accusation) is not factual,” the suspect is quoted by police.

    Starting in the fall of last year, police began receiving a number of complaints about a foreigner exposing himself in the same area. Police are now investigating whether the suspect was involved in the other incidents.

    Pankhurst began a one-year contract as an assistant language teacher with the school in April of last year.

    “Details of the case are not yet known, but it is an unforgivable act given his position as an instructor for children,” said Niigata Meikun principal Yuko Otaki. “I want to confirm the facts of the case in order to prevent a re-occurrence.”

  • I’d also like to point out that if it really was drugs that killed these people, and not the police, there should be reports of dead bodies being found in parks, in apartments, etc., of people who died from drug reactions alone, which doesn’t seem to be the case.

  • @Edwin #20 Unlikely that any drug-related incidents will be reported by the police as there is an ongoing effort by the Japanese government to keep up the myth of “there are no drugs in Japan” – and therefore no drug-related deaths can happen.

    — I think we need some sourcing for this.

  • UnderMyThumb says:

    OK, hold on here. First: the article says ‘suspects dying in police custody’ but that doesn’t seem accurate at all – in only one of the cases was the person ‘a suspect’ (i.e., arrested); all of these cases are people clearly under the influence of drugs. In addition to these cases, there have been numerous reports of crimes committed by people under the influence of drugs noted above.

    To paraphrase Andrew: I would absolutely dispute the interpretation drawn, due to an overwhelming lack of evidence.

    The Meguro Ward case: Not a ‘suspect’, already clearly under the influence of drugs, which is why the cops were called to begin with, he had a heart attack and died at the hospital.

    Shinjuku case: Witness called 110 saying the man was in the street, “bleeding, suffering from convulsions, and shouting ‘just kill me’”. The police arrived, they took him to the hospital as his condition continued to worsen ,and he died *two days later* still in the hospital – not a ‘suspect’ and not in police custody.

    Konan case: Police receive multiple reports of a man running around naked and screaming; almost certainly under the influence of drugs, and in fact had been picked up (appears to be for a similar reason) two months prior.

    Shinagawa: Man suddenly goes berserk and attacks some guys in a supermarket; he’s arrested, condition worsened so he was brought to the hospital, and dies over a week later still at the hospital.

    Akasaka: Again, police respond to multiple reports of ‘violently agitated’ man, he has a heart attack and dies three weeks later at the hospital.

    The clickbait-esque lead of the ‘Progressive News Service” irresponsible at best:
    “A troubling pattern of deaths of suspects in police custody is emerging in Tokyo, Japan. At least five people have died in police custody in the last year, with little publicity or investigation.”

    One, while it might be ‘troubling’ since it points to a possible rise in drug-related overdoes deaths, there is no evidence that this is ‘troubling’ due to police misconduct, only one of these cases could be remotely considered to have involved a ‘suspect’, none of them died in police custody, all five of the cases mentioned involved persons already clearly under the influence of drugs, with police only arriving on the scene due to multiple reports of deranged behavior by the persons themselves, and ‘little publicity or investigation’ is a bit silly given that we actually have numerous news reports of the incidents and that they’re being investigated, is there a cite for the notion that publicizing the names of the victims is the ‘international norm’, and in any case, if these were not ‘suspects’ is it a good idea to publicize their names, and note the foreigner that died was treated the same way as the Japanese men that died (it’s not like only the foreigners name was released, etc).

    > I’d also like to point out that if it really was drugs that
    > killed these people, and not the police,
    > there should be reports of dead bodies being found in parks, > in apartments, etc., of people who died from drug reactions
    > alone, which doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Seriously? Perhaps Edwin Stamm, whoever he is, doesn’t understand what’s going on; the five cases above are all exactly what he’s talking about: the drug doesn’t kill you in your sleep, it makes you go berserk and punch store keepers, or take off your clothes and act like a madman…or worse, cut up the girl living next door or kill your parents. We’re not finding ‘dead bodies’ because people are calling and the police are there while the guys are still ‘alive’, albeit already in a very bad way.

    The story seems to blame the deaths on police because police were on the scene at some point. You know another group of people who *always* seem to around people when they die an inordinately high proportion of the time? Doctors.

    There are many reasons we could criticize Japan’s police department. This story is not one of them.

    — Is this berzerker wonder drug unique to Japan?

  • UnderMyThumb raises good points about police, doctors, nurses on front-line dealing with overdose cases. But I think Ed Stamm’s main point is lack of transparency. We simply don’t know what happened to the American ESL teacher and the Japanese men in the cases he mentioned. Tokyo sheep media are too lame or brain-dead to ask questions. If UnderMyThumb’s son or daughter disappeared in Tokyo, after being detained or assisted by police, wouldn’t you want more info?

  • @Debito I cannot give you a source but I strongly believe that Japanese crime statistics are skewed to make Japan look better than it is, and that includes drug statistics. Now, if we’re talking about an officially acknowleged ‘sudden influx’ of illegal drugs into Japan, brought in by – wait for it – foreigners, that may be a whol other story, as Loverilakkuma’s 2nd link proves: A website about “Kiken drugs” in Japan and what do you see first when you go to that page? A big picture of a blonde Western guy, spaced out and “totally kiken”.

  • @Markus and @UnderMyThumb are making me think that there’s perhaps a bigger story here. If five people have indeed died of some horrific experience with drugs in Japan, and the police either couldn’t save them or deal adequately with them, we really must know about that. What are Tokyo media doing on this to serve our interests? Not enough.

  • These people did not just drop dead when the cops showed up, or die while being help into an ambulance – they died after being “wrapped in protective sheets” and/or “bound hand and foot”.

    If you are not free to leave, you are in police custody. If the guy came out of the coma and tried to leave the hospital, he would not be allowed to go, because he is still in police custody, or else the police had no reason to detain him in the first place. In the U.S. it is not uncommon for suspects to be handcuffed to hospital beds.

    By the way, a U.S. citizen dies after an altercation with six Tokyo cops and it’s not news. Some nut calls the U.S. Embassy and makes threats, and it’s a big story. Seems a little odd to me….

    Caroline Kennedy received death threats at U.S. Embassy in Japan: report

    — One’s a diplomatic incident, the other is just the Dead Gaijin on a Gurney.

  • here’s how media in the real world cover a death in police custody:

    The person shot dead by a Calgary police officer at a northeast motel Monday was a well-loved family member who worked as an electrician and dreamed of becoming an electrical engineer.

    Family have identified the victim of the fatal shooting as Anthony Heffernan, 27.

    In a statement sent to the Herald, they described Heffernan as a “very loving, thoughtful and caring person.”

    The province’s police watchdog is investigating the fatal shooting, which occurred after officers responded to the Super 8 Motel on Barlow Trail N.E. to check on the welfare of a guest, who was staying in a fourth floor room.

    Motel staff had reported to police that Heffernan was “behaving strangely.”

    Police initially tried to open the door with a motel key, but the door’s security chain was fastened and officers weren’t able to enter the room, according to the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).

    Heffernan appeared agitated and in medical distress, so officers forcibly entered the room.

    That’s when a “confrontation occurred that led to a high-risk situation,” according to ASIRT, which investigates when police actions lead to serious injury or death.

    Police deployed a conducted energy weapon, commonly called a Taser, but it had little effect.

    The situation quickly escalated, and police say a service firearm was discharged.

    Heffernan died at the scene.

    In a news conference Monday evening about the fatal shooting, interim police Chief Paul Cook called the incident traumatic.

    Heffernan’s family said they weren’t notified about his death by police until 3 a.m. Tuesday, and they’re upset officers addressed the media before family knew Heffernan was the victim of the shooting.

    The family said Heffernan loved sports and excelled as an athlete, and after graduating from high school in Calgary in 2006, the hard-working young man became a journeyman electrician when he was 21.

    Heffernan’s career took him to Saskatchewan and Fort McMurray, and his goal was to enrol in university and become an electrical engineer.

    The 27-year-old loved playing with his nephews and niece, and family said he was a wonderful cook who loved to laugh.

    “Words cannot express how much everyone in Anthony’s life will miss him,” stated his family.

  • I’m not pre-judging Calgary cops in this case. Perhaps they had a reason to shoot him. Maybe he was pointing a gun at them? We really don’t know. I personally think police are pretty good folks in most countries.

    In Japan, the problem is no news about similar incidents. It’s as if they never happen. A person can died in police custody, and nobody even bothers to ask questions. This is the ultimate indictment of the world’s most pathetic media scene

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Edwin Stamm

    Maybe you know, maybe you don’t, but you are the latest target of the ‘Tepido 12’ group of apologists over at the ‘Japologism’ site.

    Havill/Eido Inoue went to see your protest, took your photo, and is now linking to it on the site, and identifying you by your clothes from the other protesters.

    Here is a link;

    And here is your photo;井上エイド/albums/6128508571697341585/6128647051518689778?authkey=CPr1-reS5-3GuAE&pid=6128647051518689778&oid=117944255792788034101井上エイド/albums/6128508571697341585/6128508579293279250?authkey=CPr1-reS5-3GuAE&pid=6128508579293279250&oid=117944255792788034101

    Now, I’m not an expert, but this looks like stalking to me (since he took your photo, knowing who you were, so that he could use it to identify you to others later, rather than him just taking a photo of the street, and you just happened to be some unknown guy randomly in the background). Anyway, I was under the impression that Japanese law required the photographer to get the subjects permission in writing in such cases.

  • I saw that guy. He came up and asked me what was going and was trying to peek into my backpack, so I assumed he was a spook from the Embassy. He was wearing one of those dragon jackets that servicemen like to wear and looked like someone you would keep an eye on if he was in your shop, if you know what I mean. Only one foreign guy was hanging around, so I’m sure that was him. The FBI agents chat you up and tell you they sympathize with your cause….

  • I have a theory. What if this guy was not really an English teacher? Right now they are negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership “free trade” agreement, which both the Abe and Obama administrations REALLY want to pass, but which is being questioned in the U.S. as a corporate giveaway that will cost the U.S. more jobs. What if this unknown person was actually a U.S. serviceman or Embassy employee? How would the U.S. public react to a U.S. soldier dying after being attacked by six Tokyo police officers? It wouldn’t be very helpful, would it? And who else could cover up the death of one of their people? Would a multinational corporation or U.S. bank have the power to quash a news story about one of their employees? Probably not. No one cares about English teachers – they are just a step above homeless people in social status (and I say that as an English teacher). Clearly, no one cares – the perfect cover story. Just my conspiracy theory, but I can’t think of any other plausible explanation for the press not covering this story.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Edwin Stamm #32

    The apologists are going to call you crazy for that post (but then they are suffering from ‘delusions of being accepted by the Japanese’ themselves)!

    BUT, you have raised an interesting point, which is this;
    We still don’t know the name of the deceased.

    This is, when you think about it, I mean, think really hard, the strangest thing!
    The deceased has no family, who would have seen this news on the internet and commented?
    The deceased had no boss, students, colleagues, or friends who could have spoken out to the media about him, or commented on this story which has had quite long legs in the Japan-side blogosphere?

    For me, that raises so many red flags.
    I am expected to believe that the deceased lived in an utter vacuum. Or…

    …more realistically, the deceased had friends, relatives, colleagues, students, and whilst I can accept that some would not want to comment, and some may have wanted to but have been prevented by the language barrier, the remainder have all decided to stay close-lipped on this issue. Not a squeak out of any single one?

    THAT’S hard to believe, and makes this story look like there is, in fact, a lot more going on.

  • Who is paying trolls in Japan, and how much?

    This article is very insightful about how a Troll Factory in Russia works. For example, a team has a task of writing comments on 35 web forums, using keywords in order to corrupt internet searches. This is exactly what the Japologism, Japan Probe, Tepido, Japan Times, Japan Today so-called “Comment Crew” have been doing. All we need is for one of them to come forward and tell the truth, and criminal prosecution can follow.

    Check it out:

    More and more, posts and commentaries on the Internet in Russia and even abroad are generated by professional trolls, many of whom receive a higher-than-average salary for perpetuating a pro-Kremlin dialogue online.

    There are thousands of fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, and vKontakte, all increasingly focused on the war in Ukraine. Many emanate from Russia’s most famous “troll factory,” the Internet Research center, an unassuming building on St. Petersburg’s Savushkina Street, which runs on a 24-hour cycle. In recent weeks, former employees have come forward to talk to RFE/RL about life inside the factory, where hundreds of people work grinding, 12-hour shifts in exchange for 40,000 rubles ($700) a month or more.

    St. Petersburg blogger Marat Burkhard spent two months working at Internet Research in the department tasked with clogging the forums on Russia’s municipal websites with pro-Kremlin comments. In the following interview, he describes a typical day and the type of assignments he encountered.

    Marat Burkhard
    Marat Burkhard

    RFE/RL: Marat, you wrote on your blog that your time at Internet Research gave you enough material for an entire book. Why did you decide to write there? Entertainment? Adventurism?

    Marat Burkhard:

    Yes, adventurism is the right word. Because in my opinion, this kind of work doesn’t exist anywhere else.

    RFE/RL: Was it hard to get the job?


    Yes, it was hard. You have to write sample texts first, and then they decide if you’re suitable for the work. They weed people out that way.

    RFE/RL: What kind of texts?


    First they make you write something neutral — Vegetarianism: Pros And Cons. After that, the assignments start to get more to the point — for example, what do I think about humanitarian convoys in Donetsk?

    RFE/RL: Were you forced to hide your real beliefs?


    Yes, I’m pro-Western. That’s natural for me and for them, of course, it’s not. I didn’t write anything about my views. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have hired me; they would have thrown me out immediately. They’re constantly running ideological checks on everything you write. I got caught a couple of times; I had some irresponsible moments.

    RFE/RL: Did they immediately offer you a salary of 45,000 rubles, or did you get gradual raises before you reached that point?


    No, I got it immediately — as long as I met my quota. It’s a real factory. There are production quotas, and for meeting your quota you get 45,000. The quota is 135 comments per 12-hour shift.

    RFE/RL: How many departments are there at Internet Research?


    It’s a modern building, four floors. There’s a LiveJournal department, a news department, a department where they create all sorts of images and demotivators (Editor’s Note: Demotivators are satirical graphics that tend to undermine their subject matter), a department where they make videos. But I was never in those departments. Each of them has its own office, tables, and computers, and no one prowls around from place to place. Everyone stays in their spot.

    RFE/RL: How many people were in your department?



    RFE/RL: Did you work 12 hours a day?


    Yes. There were daytime and nighttime shifts.

    RFE/RL: Did you need to sit in the office or was it possible to work from home?


    There’s no working by remote. At night, a different shift comes in. I worked the day shift.

    RFE/RL: So you sit in an office for 12 hours without ever going out? Why such gigantic shifts?


    It’s two days on, two days off. So they figure that you need to work 12 hours at a time instead of eight.

    RFE/RL: So what did your department do?


    Our department commented on posts. Every city and village in Russia has its own municipal website with its own comments forum. People would write something on the forum — some kind of news — and our task was to comment on it. We did it by dividing into teams of three. One of us would be the “villain,” the person who disagrees with the forum and criticizes the authorities, in order to bring a feeling of authenticity to what we’re doing. The other two enter into a debate with him — “No, you’re not right; everything here is totally correct.” One of them should provide some kind of graphic or image that fits in the context, and the other has to post a link to some content that supports his argument. You see? Villain, picture, link.

    RFE/RL: So all three of you sit together, agreeing on who’s going to do what in this performance?


    Yeah, that’s the kind of absurdity that goes on. We don’t talk too much, because everyone is busy. A single comment isn’t supposed to be less than 200 characters. You have to just sit there and type and type, endlessly. We don’t talk, because we can see for ourselves what the others are writing, but in fact you don’t even have to really read it, because it’s all nonsense. The news gets written, someone else comments on it, but I think real people don’t bother reading any of it at all.
    So in this way, our little threesome traverses the country, stopping at every forum, starting with Kaliningrad and ending in Vladivostok. We create the illusion of actual activity on these forums. We write something, we answer each other. There are keywords, tags, that are needed for search engines. We’re given five keywords — for example, “Shoigu,” “defense minister,” “Russian army.” All three of us have to make sure these keywords appear all over the place in our comments. They can’t even be conjugated or declined. Sometimes it’s very hard to write when you can’t use any declensions!

    St. Petersburg’s Internet Research center
    St. Petersburg’s Internet Research center

    Topic: NATO troops are embedded with Ukrainian armed forces

    Keywords: ukraine news, russia and ukraine, ukraine policy, ukraine, NATO, PMC (private military company)

    Task: Raise this topic on 35 municipal forums

    Work begins after an initial post, written by a troll in a different department, is published on the LiveJournal social-networking site under the username flcrbgrjn. The post argues that foreign mercenaries are fighting on the side of Ukrainian soldiers and links to a video that purports to show two American soldiers in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

    “The Kyiv junta regularly sics its media on Russia, and they lie shamelessly and recklessly. They argue Russian armed forces are fighting on the territory of Ukraine, but they refuse to provide any proof (because there isn’t any). But when it comes to the matter of Ukrainian armed forces, the American puppets entrenched in Kyiv say there’s no evidence that foreign mercenaries and Western intelligence agents are joining their ranks — they lie and don’t even blush!”

    This post soon appears, according to an alphabetized list, on the Astrakhan city forum. Then the Villain Troll, working under the name Yana24, begins the troika’s work, posting a comment that takes issue with flcrbgrjn’s post:

    “What NATO mercenaries are you talking about? So they filmed some kind of American there, so what? It’s still not clear what they were doing there. Russia as usual blames Ukraine for the things it’s doing itself. Everyone’s been talking about your own mercenaries for a long time, and you still haven’t pulled them out!”

    The Link Troll then angrily responds to the Villain, rejecting Yana24’s argument and linking to a second report on the alleged presence of American soldiers in Mariupol:

    “Did you read the text at all? If you’re up to date with the topic, you should know how much evidence has already been provided that shows the war in Ukraine is continuing because the West and Poroshenko are reluctant to pursue peace. They’ve found things belonging to Western soldiers, and now they’ve found the soldiers themselves. Have they found proof that Russian troops are in Ukraine? Or troops themselves? No!”

    Next in line is the Picture Troll, who accuses the West of hypocrisy and adds a demotivator for extra emphasis:

    “The West is so two-faced: in every discussion about the Ukrainian conflict the West blames Russia even as it’s providing the Ukrainian armed forces with PMC soldiers representing NATO. It’s a policy of double standards!”

    Translation: Ukraine, rise up! Southeast, sit down, don’t make a fuss, and put up with it.

    After Astrakhan comes Biysk. And from there, Bryansk, Veliky Novgorod, Vladivostok, Volgograd, two forums in Voronezh, several Russian-wide forums — for example Chupakabra — and, at the end of the Russian alphabet, Chita and Cherepovets.

    There are few other comments, but the theme flies to the top of Yandex.

    RFE/RL: Marat, can you recall the strangest or funniest task that your team was given?


    The funniest was when U.S. President Barack Obama chewed gum in India and then spit it out. “You need to write 135 comments about this, and don’t be shy about how you express yourself. Write whatever you want, just stick the word Obama in there a lot and then cover it over with profanities.” In the assignment, there’s always a conclusion you’ve got to make, it’s already written, that Obama is a black monkey who doesn’t know anything about culture. You stick him in ancient India and he chews gum there. It’s funny in the sense that they’re ready to grab onto any little thing. On the other hand, it’s not funny. It’s absurd and it crosses a line.

    RFE/RL: The main task of the factory is to write on visitor forums, in particular forums run by Russia’s ideological enemies. Who does that?


    There’s a Ukrainian department, an English department. They bombard the websites of CNN and the BBC. They have their own type of targets — The New York Times, not the Samara city site. It’s a little simpler for us, of course.
    “The different departments don’t particularly socialize,” says Marat Burkhard. “Friendship isn’t encouraged. The system is very repressive. If you’re late by a minute, there’s already a 500 ruble fine.” (file photo)
    “The different departments don’t particularly socialize,” says Marat Burkhard. “Friendship isn’t encouraged. The system is very repressive. If you’re late by a minute, there’s already a 500 ruble fine.” (file photo)

    RFE/RL: You know foreign languages. Didn’t they offer you a position in one of the foreign departments?


    They did. I had a job interview in the English department, but they started to ask me about my beliefs, to which I replied that I was apolitical, I don’t know anything, I don’t follow anything. Apparently, that ended my prospects there. To get a job with them, I should have answered that I follow certain trains of thought. The salary for employees with foreign language skills is more than 45,000 — it’s 65,000 and higher.

    RFE/RL: And are some of the people working on social networks — on Facebook, in particular?


    Yes, there are special people working on Facebook. There are about 40 rooms with about 20 people sitting in each, and each person has their assignments. They write and write all day, and it’s no laughing matter — you can get fired for laughing. And so every day, any news does the trick — it could be Obama, could be [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, could be Greece, North Korea.
    The young people doing this work are barely capable of formulating what’s important about these stories. Even a political scientist can’t be an expert about the entire world, but here people are expected to write about everything. And how you write doesn’t matter; you can praise or scold. You just have put those keywords in.

    Then, in order to plump up the political content, they send in a guy to talk about the topic of the day, so that at least the employees have a little background on the topic. But the guy himself has an extremely low level of understanding, so it all looks completely absurd. Incidentally, they gave us a test on ideology, with 15 or 20 questions you need to answer. Anyone who makes a couple of mistakes has to retake it. But anyone who’s simply hopeless just gets fired.

    RFE/RL: What do they ask on the exam?


    For example: “What does Russia want to happen in the Donetsk People’s Republic?” It’s very difficult to answer, and you have just two or three words. Or, for example, easier questions like “Who’s Psaki?” (Editor’s Note: State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki is a frequent target of Russian trolls.)

    RFE/RL: The topic of Ukraine probably dominates.


    Yes, they throw everything they’ve got at Ukraine.

    RFE/RL: How does your troika work when the assignment is to praise Russia instead of criticizing Ukraine or America?


    I once had occasion to write that the majority of Germans support Putin’s policies. That’s how the assignment was worded — “Say that the majority of Germans support Putin’s policies and are unhappy with Merkel’s.” Where they get this from I don’t know, but I have to write about it. It’s funny to write, “The majority of Germans…”

    RFE/RL: Does the Villain have a role in such assignments?


    If something is pro-Putin, the Villain will have doubts. For example, for Orthodox Christmas, Putin went to Mass at an ordinary village church outside Voronezh and there was sweetness and light all around. A story gets posted along the lines of, “How wonderful, how marvelous, how great, what an amazing man he is.” But the Villain disagrees: “OK, come on, Putin went to Voronezh to boost his popularity with the public.” To which we answer, “What’s the matter with you, what popularity are you talking about? Yes, he’s popular, but he doesn’t need popularity, he just wants to meet with ordinary people.” That’s a funny example.
    Next Assignment

    Topic: Build a positive attitude toward the domestic policies of Vladimir Putin; the president personally celebrated Christmas with ordinary Russians.

    Keywords: president rf, putin news, putin policies, christmas, vladimir putin

    Again, the assignment begins with a post published on a LiveJournal account. The post about Putin is prefaced by a fragment from a poem by Marina Tsvetayeva, “It’s a sin to soar over a golden-domed chapel and not to pray in it,” which in this context seems to take on a double meaning.

    Christmas unites!

    The blessed holiday of the Nativity is upon us. And on such a miraculous day, which unites all citizens of Russia — no matter whether you’re a believer or, as they say, “unchurched” — on the way to the Lord, the Russian president VP was, as always, with the people! Where else but in the provinces, far away from the urban hustle and bustle, is it possible to really experience this holy day? So this year Vladimir Putin visited the village church in honor of the Holy Virgin, located near Voronezh in the village of Otradnoye. And on such a holiday, one of the main holidays in Russia (and in the entire Christian church), at such a difficult time the president was with the people and congratulated all the clerics and faithful parishioners!

    On the Barnaul forum, the Link Troll kicks things off with praise and a link to a December 31 article, Putin Congratulates Obama And Reminds Him Of The Principles Of Mutual Respect.

    “Great article! By the way, the president of Russia, also congratulated the American president, the German chancellor, and other Western politicians on New Year’s Eve. He’s to be commended for expressing his peaceful intentions and conducting normal policy — something that’s hard to get from Barack Obama.”

    The Villain Troll appears incensed:

    “And what did you find that was so totally amazing in his Christmas message??? I don’t understand!!! Vladimir Putin is an ordinary person!! So what if he’s the president?? If I get on TV and wish everyone a nice Christmas, will you write a nice article about me too??? Finally we’ve found something to talk about!”

    The Picture Troll posts a photo of Putin at the church and retorts:

    “This is idiotic! Putin is our president. And it’s really great that he went to a village church to congratulate everyone on the holiday. Christmas is a miracle. I envy the congregation. I would have loved to have been there on that great holiday.”

    Elsewhere, on the Yekaterinburg forum, the Villain Troll attacks Putin’s Christmas appearance as a stunt aimed at distracting the public from the country’s massive economic woes:

    “Give your neighbor a sack of buckwheat this year!! Now that’s a good deed!!! Vladimir Putin represents everything that awaits us in the future!! He just went to pray for his ass and ask for forgiveness. He’s driven the country straight to hell, and now what can he do??? Pray, and that’s it!”

    The Picture Troll issues a stern reprimand, illustrated with a bucolic photo from the scene:

    “Good lord, your language! Christmas is a blessed holiday, and here you are swearing. It’s not worth it. There’s enough buckwheat for everyone, our country will survive the anti-Russian sanctions, no problem. So I congratulate everyone on a blessed holiday and wish everyone peace and goodness. Especially YOU!”

    And thus the troika spends the day sweeping through 35 forums.

    RFE/RL: Were people ever fired for ideological mistakes?


    Yes, they were. One person got fired right in front of me. I also got in some trouble. There are so many cartoons out there that once I made a mistake and put up a caricature of Yanukovych instead of one of Poroshenko. And you can’t make fun of Yanukovych; Yanukovych is one of the good guys. They immediately called me on the carpet: “How dare you? You really didn’t know that it was Yanukovych?” All this goes on with terribly serious faces. There are tons of managers there who constantly monitor and follow everyone.

    RFE/RL: And who are the managers?


    People from Internet Research who’ve been there a long time and apparently worked their way up. Their salary, by the way, is two times higher. I happened to see a salary list, and I was just horrified — 70,000-80,000 rubles for reading the crap I write and wagging their finger at me if I make a mistake.

    RFE/RL: So who goes in for this work? Are there people there who honestly want to fight Obama or Merkel over the Donetsk People’s Republic?


    Yes, there really are people like that. That’s the worst thing: When there’s a lunch break, there’s a kind of cafeteria, with vending machines and coffee, and you hear people — who write all day about these things — instead of drinking coffee and talking about something else, they start to furiously foam at the mouth about the very same things. Still something to prove. So there are fanatics.
    But the basic majority are just young people who want to make money. They’re so politically illiterate that Putin, Obama… They don’t know the difference. Of course, they’re all for Putin, but they’re absolutely politically illiterate. “Whatever we’re told, that’s what we’ll write about, no questions asked, and we don’t want to know.”

    RFE/RL: Have you met people in other departments?


    The different departments don’t particularly socialize. Friendship isn’t encouraged. The system is very repressive. If you’re late by a minute, there’s already a 500 ruble fine. The employees are under constant pressure. There’s a fine for even the smallest deviation. You’re constantly under threat of being fired, constantly being ordered around. It’s not a very civilized atmosphere.

    RFE/RL: Did you get fired or did you decide on your own to leave?


    I decided myself, because I can’t engage in absurd work. In terms of life experience, I got it, and to keep going didn’t make any sense — it’s all absurd. I don’t share this ideology, I’m absolutely against it, I was located in the enemy camp. Two months was enough to understand how everything there is done. To keep on working made no sense, even for money, because it’s such hard work that — just forget it, forget the money. Just don’t make me go there any more.
    By the way, any time a journalist shows up and tries to get in or ask something, they go on high alert. All the curtains are kept closed. We’re all forbidden from going out on the street during the day. They’re really afraid of journalists.

    RFE/RL: But there are still a lot of leaks. Three people gave us interviews last week. It’s like a parody of an Orwell novel.


    Yes, that’s right, the Ministry of Truth. You work in the Ministry of Truth, which is the Ministry of Lies, and everyone kind of believes in this truth. Yes, you’re right, it’s Orwell.

  • Are we naive to think that the Japologists are corrupting web forums, targeting so-called “dissidents” such as Debito, JDG or now Ed Stamm simply out of altruism or “freedom of expression?”

    Would we believe the same about the Troll Army in China or Russia?

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Troll Factory,

    I agree that there is a co-ordinated effort to push a pro-Abe, pro-right-wing-Japan, anti-Okinawa/Fukushima protestor, agenda on the English language internet, but I honestly think that the J-gov isn’t savvy enough to organize English speakers to do it.
    Besides, you don’t have to pay these people in Japan, they do it all by themselves, because they actually believe it!

  • I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the State Department about a week ago, asking for the name of the dead American. I’ll post it here if I get a response.

  • I think I posted this follow-up on the wrong thread. Sorry to double post this:

    John Doe in Tokyo: One year after American man’s fatal encounter with Tokyo police, we still don’t even know his name

    On February 11, 2015, a 29 year-old American man, reportedly employed as an English teacher, was involved in an altercation with six Tokyo police officers in the Akasaka district of Minato Ward after police received a complaint about a foreign man “behaving violently”, although there is no mention of any bystanders being injured. This happened to be a national holiday, celebrating the founding of Japan. These Japanese press reports say the man went into cardiac arrest and then fell into a coma, but it is unclear if this happened during his arrest or some time later at the police station. At some point he was taken to a hospital, where he died on March 1, 2015.

    Jiji Press and the Japanese-language edition of the Wall Street Journal covered the story in Japanese, but, as far as I am aware, none of the major English-language media outlets appear to have covered the story, not even local outlets like the Japan Times, or international media organizations that cover Japan, even after they were contacted about the story. Only the Progressive News Service, Tokyo Weekender and Tokyo Reporter appear to have covered the story in English.

    A year later, we still don’t even know this man’s name. Both the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and U.S. Embassy in Tokyo refused to provide additional details at the time of the incident. A Freedom of Information Act request was submitted to the State Department in April of 2015, but the Progressive News Service has yet to receive any information about the incident. Both the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and U.S. Embassy in Tokyo were contacted for this follow-up story on February 27th, but neither has responded.

    It is more than a little disturbing that a man can die after an encounter with law enforcement personnel, and that the most basic details necessary for government transparency and public interest news coverage can be withheld from the public. It reminds one of states were citizens are “disappeared” by the security services. The State Department appears to be concealing information on risks to the safety of U.S. citizens in Japan in order to protect the image of a foreign government.

    Even more unexpected and worrying is the apparent complicity of the mainstream news media in helping cover up this incident.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Edwin Stamm,

    Thank you for your effort and the update.
    I’ve never been under the false illusion that my government doesn’t do exactly all of the same things that it says only ‘other governments’ do- and I’m sure any of us could knock up a quick list of post-war occasions when the US has supported human rights abusing fascist regimes all over the globe (mores the pity).

    So, no surprise that elite US interests trump justice for US citizens who aren’t vested interests.

    However, the international news media has got no excuse what-so-ever, and need to seriously start bringing their ‘A game’ to the omnishambles that is Japan. As I recently pointed out, Japan’s become a journalistic joke in terms of quality of overseas reporting and reporters.

    Kudos to you Edwin!


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