Base protester on hunger strike in Okinawa jail
NAGO, Okinawa — An anti-base activist is staging a hunger strike in jail after his arrest for impeding traffic at Camp Schwab’s main gate Monday.
Natsume Taira, 44, was arrested on a charge of obstructing government officials from performing their duties, said Hiroshi Oyakawa, deputy chief of the prefectural police’s Nago station.
Monday’s demonstration also marked the end of a tenuous truce between the coalition of groups opposed to the planned construction of an air facility on Camp Schwab to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and Japanese officials who are tasked with conducting an archeological survey prior to construction.
“It was the second time Taira threw himself under a vehicle in an attempt to block the survey,” Oyakawa said Tuesday. “On Sept. 15, we warned him against the dangerous behavior. However, yesterday, despite our repeated warnings, he did it again.”
Observers said Taira was bleeding as he was led away. Oyakawa said the wounds were from minor scratches he sustained when he threw himself under a car.
Taira remained in police custody Tuesday. Oyakawa said Taira has not eaten any food and had been drinking only sports drinks since the arrest. The charges were sent to the Naha District Public Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday.
The coalition of protest groups announced last Wednesday that they wouldn’t block the surveyors as long as their demands for an “open” survey of cultural assets on the base were considered. The survey is required before any construction can begin on the air facility, slated for completion by 2014.
But on Monday the protesters claimed their demands were being ignored and a “hasty” survey was being conducted.
Despite local media reports of disagreements within the coalition, Toyama said that they were all of one accord.
“We share the common goal of blocking construction of a new military facility,” he said.
In May, the U.S. and Japan agreed to replace MCAS Futenma in urban Ginowan with a new base on the Henoko peninsula on Camp Schwab. It’s part of a U.S. troop realignment that includes the transfer of 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam and the closure of several Marine bases in south-central Okinawa.
The survey is being conducted by Nago city’s Board of Education, which is responsible for the city’s cultural assets, and the Defense Facilities Administration’s Naha Bureau.
A spokesman for the DFAB on Tuesday said the survey will go forward.
“We will continue to work closely with Nago City and other offices involved to move this along in a safe and smooth manner,” he said.
Following Taira’s arrest, about 20 people protested outside the Nago police headquarters demanding his release. Police said the demonstration was peaceful.
Taira’s lawyer said his client was on a hunger strike to protest the “malicious” arrest.
“We believe the arrest was unnecessary,” said Toshio Ikemiyagi. He claims Taira was arrested 10 minutes after he was pulled out from under the car, when he was confronting police officers.
He claimed the arrest was meant to send a message to the protesters that “the central government has decided to do whatever it takes to carry out the military project, even by using police force.”
Oyakawa said Taira was called over to the police officers, where he was taken into custody.
“We had decided to break up the protest first then separate Taira from the group and arrest him,” he said.