(Tokyo Shimbun: November 13, 2015 – p. 5)
Opponents to the construction of a new U.S. military base in Henoko, Nago City, continue to hold sit-ins. Some protesters have been injured or arrested as the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) riot police join with other personnel in forcibly removing demonstrators. What has become of human rights in Okinawa?
Local residents gather from early in the morning in front of the gate used by the construction vehicles at Camp Schwab. Many of the people are elderly. They lie down on the asphalt and link arms, confirming with each other that their protest is nonviolent.
Just before 7:00 a.m., the riot police waiting inside Camp Schwab rush out the main gate and surround the citizens. Some protesters are picked up forcibly by riot police while others are grabbed by both arms and dragged off. The protesters’ arms are black and blue from being handled by the riot police, who are wearing nonslip work gloves. At the Nov. 11 sit-in which saw the participation of 500 citizens, two people had to be transported [to the hospital] by ambulance after they fell and hit their heads as the riot police tried to break up the demonstration.
At the request of the Okinawa Prefectural Police Department, 150 members of the MPD riot police have been dispatched to Okinawa to participate in the crackdown on protests. Okinawans are becoming increasingly angry that MPD police have been mobilized for something other than an international summit or the protection of VIPs. Near the gate, protesters that have been hauled up are confined in the space between the iron fence and armored police vehicles that are parked along it. Isn’t it going too far to even temporarily keep unarmed people in a confined place that resembles a cage?
Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga revoked the approval granted by his predecessor for landfill work in Henoko, and an unbridgeable rift has grown between him and the national government. The national government instructed the governor to retract his decision, but Gov. Onaga has refused to comply. Now the national government will take the matter to the Fukuoka High Court to seek a decision that would strip Gov. Onaga of his authority as governor and allow a national government minister to take control of the matter.
Okinawa Prefecture is also filing a complaint with the Central and Local Government Dispute Management Council and will bring a case against the national government if Council procedures break down. The government should refrain from getting into this kind of court battle and should start over from zero with the plan for a new U.S. military base.
Okinawa is home to 74% of the U.S. military facilities in Japan, although it accounts for less than 1 percent of the nation’s total land mass. The return of the Futenma Air Station is a symbol of the government policy to reduce the burden on Okinawa. Closure and return to Japan of Futenma is of course an urgent issue, but moving the facility to another part of the same prefecture does not alleviate the burden.
The people of Okinawa Prefecture have shown their opposition to the construction of a new military base at the polls in four elections. Nonetheless, the national government is pushing forward with the construction, repeating the mantra that “Henoko is the only solution.”
People are putting their lives on the line and participating in sit-ins because they are angry over the discriminatory treatment given Okinawa and are impelled to raise their voices to delay the construction even if just a little bit.
The issue of the U.S. military bases in Okinawa is a question facing all of Japan. The government as well as everyone living on the mainland need to think about this matter. The nonviolent protests are once again calling us to do that.