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Editorial: Why the unlawful arrest of two anti-base protestors?

  • 2015-02-24 15:00:00
  • , Okinawa Times
  • Translation

(Okinawa Times: February 24, 2015 – p. 5)

 

 This is the first time that the U.S. military unabashedly abused the Special Criminal Act pertaining to the U.S.-Japan SOFA. If this application of law is permitted, then the Constitution-guaranteed basic human rights of citizens prove useless.

 

 Hiroji Yamashiro, director of the Okinawa Heiwa Undo Center, a local activist group campaigning for peace in the prefecture, and another man were detained in the morning of Feb. 22 by Japanese security guards at Camp Schwab. They were among many other demonstrators staging protests against the construction of a new military facility in Henoko, Nago City, in front of the base gate. They were handcuffed behind their backs and taken into the facility by U.S. soldiers.

 

 The two protestors were later transferred to the Nago Police Station and arrested on suspicion of violating the Special Criminal Act.

 

 They were released in the evening of Feb. 23, but that is not the end of the story. The reason for this is hard to comprehend. This extreme act needs to be thoroughly investigated.

 

 Article 2 of the Special Criminal Act prohibits intrusions into U.S. military facilities without legitimate reasons. The two activists were apprehended for allegedly trespassing on the base premises, but that act is nothing but the wrongful application of the law.

 

 Protestors gathered at around 7:30 in the morning of Feb. 22. Around 9:00 a.m., U.S. military security officers appeared. They were wearing sunglasses. The atmosphere was different from usual.

 

 The standoff with citizen protesters continued for some time and tension escalated. Yamashiro called on the demonstrators to stay behind the line – which marks the border with the base – to avoid any unpredictable occurrences.

 

 No sooner did Yamashiro speak to the protestors than he was detained by U.S. security personnel. According to witnesses, he was “less than 1 meter” inside the line, or the military premises. Nonetheless, the security officers grabbed him all of a sudden. When he fell to the ground, they dragged him by his legs inside the premises. It was obvious that they had targeted at him.

 

 What are intrusions into U.S. military facilities defined in the Special Criminal Act? What acts become subject to punishment? Yamashiro did not try to force himself into the gate and trespass on the base.

 

 As leader of the demonstrators, he was ordering them to back off to avoid tension. It was the U.S. military that used force to drag him inside the premises.

 

 If the Special Criminal Act can be broadly interpreted such that acts similar to this one are subject to punishment, the Japanese Constitution, which guarantees basic human rights, such as freedom of speech, assembly and group actions, comes to naught.

 

 It is hard to believe that the security officers detained Yamashiro and the other activist at their own discretion. It is more plausible to conclude that the security officers acted on the basis of instructions given by their seniors in advance. The U.S. military has been frustrated by a series of local protests, urging the Japanese government to take a tougher stance.

 

 What prompted the U.S. military to detain the two? What instructions were given to security personnel? Governor Takeshi Onaga should demand the Okinawa Area Coordinator at the U.S. military investigate the incident and report to the prefecture.

 

 Construction of a new base at Henoko, Nago, is rapidly sending Okinawa back into what it was in the 1950s.

 

 Back then, the U.S. military confiscated a vast area of land in the prefecture for base construction. On Ieijima Island farmers forced from their homeland staged a “march of beggars” across the prefecture. Many left the Isahama district and migrated to South America after losing their land. Senior officials with the Okinawa People’s Party were abducted by Counter-Intelligence Corps, a U.S. military unit which oversaw civilian intelligence. At the CIC headquarters, they were stripped and tortured with noise and light.

 

 What we mean by “sending Okinawa back into what it was in the 1950s” is that construction of a new Henoko facility is giving rise to a political situation similar to the one that the prefecture underwent in the 1950s.

 

 The government rejects talking with the prefecture and mobilizes all concerned organizations to push for construction of a new base. That high-handed approach is raising the hackles of local residents. And their escalated protests are prompting the U.S. military to act excessively.

 

 The tension should not be escalated further. Aborting construction should come first.

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