NAHA, Japan — A court sentenced a prominent leader of the anti-U.S. base movement to two years in prison, suspended for three years, on Wednesday for protests connected to his opposition to military activities in the island prefecture.
The criminal trial of Hiroji Yamashiro, the head of the Okinawa Peace Action Center, at the Naha District Court caught the public’s attention due to the vocal 65-year-old leader having been detained for five months since his arrest.
A key figure in efforts to oppose the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma within the prefecture, Yamashiro’s incarceration prompted human rights groups to criticize authorities for confining him unnecessarily. The groups called for his immediate release.
Yamashiro was arrested in October 2016 for cutting barbed wire near a U.S. helipad construction site in Higashi. He was also charged with obstructing relocation work at a U.S. Marine’s Camp Schwab by piling blocks at its gate in January 2016 and injuring a local defense bureau official in August that year.
During his trial, Yamashiro said Okinawa is being silenced, with the movement opposing the relocation of the Futenma airfield not given appropriate consideration.
Many residents of Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, want the Futenma base moved from the southernmost island prefecture altogether.
Prosecutors sought two years and six months for Yamashiro, saying he played a key role in antibase activities.
Yamashiro’s accomplices Hiroshi Inaba, 67, and Atsuhiro Soeda, 45, were sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years, and one year and six months in prison, suspended for five years, respectively.