Anti-US base protest leader released on bond after 5-month detention
By CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 19, 2017
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — An anti-U.S. base protest leader whose five-month detention garnered international protests and condemnation from human-rights groups such as Amnesty International is free on bond.
The Fukuoka High Court on Saturday upheld a decision by the Naha District Court to release Hiroji Yamashiro, 64, chairman of a group opposed to relocating Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa, on a bail of 7 million yen (about $64,000).
Judges dismissed an appeal filed by the Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office, Yamashiro’s family said.
The Okinawa Peace Activity Center leader had been detained since Oct. 17, when he was taken into custody after police said he cut a strand of barbed wire on a perimeter fence at Okinawa’s Northern Training Area while protesting the construction of helicopter landing pads.
Three days later, police added other charges stemming from incidents they said happened months before. Those include obstructing officers and causing injuries after a scuffle between police and protesters, and the forcible obstruction of business — keeping officers from performing their duties — after Yamashiro was accused of blocking a Camp Schwab construction gate with more than 1,000 concrete blocks.
At an opening hearing on Friday, Yamashiro pleaded not guilty to most of the charges, but admitted to cutting the barbed wire.
“I have been detained unjustly for an extensive period of time,” he told the Naha District Court’s three-judge panel. “I am seriously concerned that what has happened to me will be repeated in the future to those who fight for anti-war and peace activities on Okinawa. I ask the court to never allow it to happen.”
Yamashiro’s lawyers argued that such a long detention for what they say are minor offenses is a clear violation of Yamashiro’s right to freedom of expression.
“I heartily thank the support I have received all these days, from you, all the people from Okinawa, mainland Japan and all the way from New York, Washington and London,” Yamashiro told supporters gathered outside the Naha Detention Center on Saturday. “I will continue to fight until I win innocence.”
The U.S. and Japanese governments consider the base relocation on Okinawa a critical component of U.S. military force realignment in the Asia-Pacific, despite calls from protesters like Yamashiro to move the base off the island.
Moving Futenma's forces out of Okinawa would separate the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit from its helicopters and aviation assets.
Yamashiro’s trial is set to resume on March 27.