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Supporters stage New York rally demanding Japan release Okinawa anti-base activist

Supporters of a prominent opponent of U.S. military bases in Okinawa held a rally Thursday outside the Japanese Consulate in New York calling for his release from more than four months’ detention.

The move came after Japan’s Supreme Court last month denied bail to Hiroji Yamashiro, head of the Okinawa Peace Action Center. Human rights and civil groups are calling for him to be released from what they say is political oppression.

“I suspect the detention is to crush nonviolent (peace) movements in Okinawa. It is a flagrant violation of human rights,” said Noriko Oyama, who led the rally in front of the Japanese Consulate General.

Yamashiro, 64, has led protest groups against the long-opposed bilateral plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to Nago in Okinawa.

He was arrested in October on suspicion of cutting barbed wire near a U.S. construction site in Higashi, where a helipad was being built. He has also been charged with injuring a Defense Ministry official and obstructing relocation work at another U.S. Marine base in Nago. The nature and seriousness of the injury was not clear.

Amnesty International Japan has called for Yamashiro’s immediate release, saying he does not meet the criteria for being detained because the chances of him destroying evidence concerning his alleged crimes are very low.

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Anti-US base activists push for Okinawa protester’s release

Activists opposing the US military presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa are protesting the ongoing detention of one anti-US base activist over a series of minor offenses.

Hiroji Yamashiro, 64, had been leading protests against the construction of a new US marine corps installation, before he was arrested on October 17 last year. The island already boasts 32 such facilities.

Yamashiro and his supporters have claimed he is being detained for politically-motivated reasons and that the Japanese government is trying to silence him.

He is being held on suspicion of cutting a wire fence around a Marine Corps helipad construction site, interfering with a public officer’s duties, causing bodily harm, and of obstructing the construction of a Marine Corps air station.

US forces have been stationed on Okinawa since the end of WW2, and the base has long been a contentious issue in Japan. This latest series of protests are against the construction of new bases in Henoko and Takae, which locals say will damage the ecosystem.

Responding to a series of questions put to him by The Washington Post, Yamashiro wrote from his prison cell: “I can’t help but think this smells like a political judgment, not a judicial one, This is an unjust and illegal detention, and I don’t think it should be allowed to happen. It’s probably related to the current situation of the base issue in Okinawa.”

Under Japanese law, suspects can be held for a period of 23 days before they must be charged or released. Yamashiro has been held for three times that period and has also reportedly been prevented from seeing his family throughout his detention.

Yamashiro’s supporters have submitted a petition ( https://goo.gl/1oI8Uu ) calling for his release to Naha district court. It has reportedly been signed by 40,000 people and there have been a number of protests outside the building.

A number of public figures including documentary writer Satoshi Kamata, author Keiko Ochiai, and commentator Makoto Sataka have also called for his release.

The activist remains defiant, writing to The Washington Post: “I will not get discouraged, I will survive through this and work hard to speak for angry Okinawan people.”

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