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Anti-base Okinawa activist released after five months in detention

A prominent leader of the anti-base movement in Okinawa was released on bail Saturday after spending five months in jail over minor offenses.

The Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court ordered Hiroji Yamashiro, 64, head of the Okinawa Peace Action Center, released on bail, upholding the Naha District Court’s decision on Friday. Prosecutors had appealed the district court ruling.

Yamashiro was arrested in October for allegedly cutting barbed wire at a U.S. military training area in Higashi, Okinawa. He has also led groups opposed to the relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma further south in Ginowan. Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

At his first hearing at the district court Friday, Yamashiro admitted to the charge of destroying property by cutting barbed wire. But he pleaded not guilty to two other charges: the forcible obstruction of a business and assault.

Yamashiro and other activists are accused of piling some 1,480 concrete blocks in front of the gate to Camp Schwab in Nago in January 2016 in a bid to prevent the delivery of equipment and materials needed for the relocation project there.

He is also suspected of injuring a local defense bureau official by grabbing his shoulder and shaking him last August near the U.S. military training area in Higashi.

The high-profile detention prompted human rights groups including Amnesty International Japan to call for Yamashiro’s immediate release.

Japan rights group, at U.N. meeting in Geneva, calls for release of Okinawa activist

A Japanese human rights group Friday called for the immediate release of an activist detained for nearly five months in connection with his opposition to U.S. bases in Okinawa Prefecture.

Akira Maeda of the Japanese Workers’ Committee for Human Rights, slammed the government for continuing to detain Hiroji Yamashiro, head of the Okinawa Peace Action Center, during a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Mr. Hiroji Yamashiro . . . has been detained for 140 days on relatively minor charges, triggering accusations that the Japanese government is trying to silence him,” he said. “Yamashiro’s continued incarceration contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Yamashiro, 64, has led groups objecting to the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma within the prefecture.

He was arrested in October on suspicion of cutting barbed wire near a U.S. military helipad construction site in Higashi, in northern Okinawa. He has also been charged with injuring a Defense Ministry official and obstructing relocation work at another U.S. Marine base in Nago.

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

Amnesty appeals for Okinawa activist’s release

The human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the continued detention of an activist who was arrested for protesting the construction of a US military facility in Okinawa Prefecture.

Hiroji Yamashiro, the chairman of the Okinawa Peace Action Center, was arrested last October for allegedly cutting a wire fence around a helipad construction site in a US military training area in the prefecture.

Yamashiro was later arrested again for assaulting a local defense official.

The Amnesty International statement protests what it calls the deprivation of Yamashiro’s physical liberty.

It expresses concern that the detention is part of the Japanese government’s suppression of the anti-base movement, and says the arrest has had a chilling effect on other protesters.

Yamashiro’s lawyer says the defendant has denied all charges except for damaging property.

The lawyer has asked more than 10 times for a meeting and Yamashiro’s release, but the requests have been turned down by a local court.

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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