Fusako Shigenobu (1945- ) is a political prisoner, poet, writer, mother, and revolutionary fighter for the liberation of Palestine. She was imprisoned for 21.5 years after dedicating her life to the fight against global imperialism.
She joined the student movement in the late 1960s while attending night school at Meiji University in Tokyo and gradually became committed to revolutionary politics, and later joined the Red Army Faction (RAF) in 1969. The RAF was a communist party that advocated for revolution against the imperialist governments of the U.S. and Japan. Fusako became one of the senior leaders in 1970 and was tasked with starting an International Relations Bureau.
In 1971, Fusako left Japan due partially to her disagreement with Mori Tsuneo, the new default leader of RAF after mass arrests of its leadership. But the main reason for leaving Japan was to seek international solidarity with other ongoing revolutions and struggles against imperialism around the world. She headed to the Middle East after she learned about the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation.
Upon arriving in Lebanon on March 1, 1971, Fusako started working with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a secular Marxist-Leninist organization founded by Palestinian doctor George Habash. Fusako started her solidarity work at the PFLP’s Public Relations office and magazine publication center, Al Hadaf. This was an era with very limited access to media and information, so her main focus was dispersing the information she gained about the Palestinian struggle and about the situation in the Middle East back to Japan by writing reports for Japanese leftist newspapers and magazines, as well as corresponding with different activists, artists, medics, journalists, and other specialists to encourage them to come and volunteer in the Palestinian camps or inform the Japanese public and create grassroots support.
In May 1971, she helped introduce Masao Adachi and Koji Wakamatsu to the Palestinian freedom fighters Fidayeen and facilitated the making of their film Red Army/PFLP Declaration of World War. She accompanied them to Jordan’s Jarash mountain Palestinian camp where they filmed the first-ever footage of Palestinian fighters in the Fidayeen’s daily life. These Fidayeen were massacred only two days after they left.
On May 30, 1972, three Japanese men volunteered to take part in a military operation at Lydda Airport (known to Israelis as Ben Gurion Airport ) that targeted Aharon Katzir, the lead scientist for Israel’s biological weapons. Twenty-five civilians were killed in the crossfire with Israeli security forces. Israel denied access to an international inquiry commission to investigate how so many civilians were killed in the incident. An independent investigation would have revealed who was responsible for killing civilians.
The three Japanese volunteers had planned to sacrifice their lives during the operation by using hand grenades, but one participant Kozo Okamoto survived and was captured. In the Israeli interrogation, it was revealed that he was a Red Army Faction (RAF) member. The three volunteers called themselves the Arab Red Army, and this was leaked to the Israeli media. The Israeli media named them the Japanese Red Army and thus the name existed before the organization came into existence in 1974.
Fusako was forced underground in fear of Israeli reprisal against the Japanese working with the Palestinian liberation movement. Even though Fusako had no involvement in the operation, Israel attempted to assassinate her by bombing the buildings where she resided. I Decided to Give Birth to You Under an Apple Tree, 2001).
Around this time, she became pregnant with her daughter who was born on March 1, 1973. Fusako and her daughter May lived underground for the next 28 years. May was named after the Japanese word for revolution (Kaku-mei) with the Kanji character meaning “life.”（命）
While remaining underground, the Japanese volunteers for the PFLP decided to create a political organization in 1974. Fusako became the leader and spokesperson for this internationalist leftist revolutionary organization that took on the name Japanese Red Army (and Arab-Red Army in its early stages).
After the JRA became an independent entity in 1974, it sought to ensure that civilians would not be harmed in any future operations. After a change in policy, all their militaristic operations ceased by the late 1980s. The group decided to continue their work by focusing on grassroots support and solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Fusako authored 10 books while living underground and in prison, including a book of poetry. In her first book, My Love, My Revolution (1974), Fusako wrote: “I would like to see people brought up to help each other regardless of borders.”
In November 2000, Fusako was arrested in Osaka and taken to Tokyo. On many occasions, Fusako has publicly taken accountability for past JRA actions and apologized to all those unnecessarily harmed. On April 14, 2001, she dissolved the Japanese Red Army and stated she would continue the same work in Japan through legal means. The government charged her with two counts of passport forgery and alleged that she must have “conspired” in the planning of the 1974 hostage-taking operation at the French Embassy in the Hague (an operation that is well known to have been planned by the PFLP Waddie Haddad and led by Carlos, which injured one guard). The prosecution presented no concrete evidence of Fusako’s involvement and relied heavily on forced confession statements taken in the 1970s that were retracted by those witnesses on the stand during the trial. Disregarding such retractions, the judge sentenced her in 2005 to 20 years of imprisonment for possibly conspiring a “attempted manslaughter”.
Akin to other political prisoners, Fusako has been excessively punished because she openly challenges the legitimacy of the Japanese monarchy and government for perpetuating imperial systems of domination and discrimination. From prison, she wrote, “Japan is not a divine nation; we should become a humane nation.” (December 2000)
In 2008, she was diagnosed with colon and intestinal cancer and underwent four surgeries. In a 2017 letter from Hachioji Medical Prison in Tokyo, Shigenobu writes: