Midnight curfew, other restrictions in place on Okinawa
A midnight curfew and other restrictions take effect Friday for all servicemembers on Okinawa after Americans were arrested in the death of one woman and the rape of another on an island with a history of public outrage over crimes by members of the U.S. community.
In an announcement Thursday, III Marine Expeditionary Force said the restrictions will remain in effect through June 24. Others covered by the Status of Forces Agreement – including civilian workers and families of servicemembers – are being asked to abide by the restrictions, too.
The new measures follow the May 19 arrest of former Marine Kenneth Franklin Gadson, 32, who works for a military contractor at Kadena Air Base, in the death of Rina Shimabukuro, a 20-year-old Okinawa woman whose body was found in a wooded area after Gadson provided directions to the site.
A 24-year-old Navy sailor based at Camp Schwab in northern Okinawa, Justin Castellanos, was arrested in March for allegedly raping an intoxicated Japanese tourist who he found passed out in a hall of the hotel where he was staying.
The killing of Shimabukuro dominated talks Wednesday between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama, who is in Japan for an international economic summit.
Abe told Obama that the killing was an “unforgivable crime” that shocked “not only the Okinawa people but also all the people of Japan.”
A III MEF statement said the intent of the tightened restrictions is “to observe a period of unity and mourning by curtailing off-installation activities” in response to the two alleged crimes by SOFA-status personnel.
The restrictions include:
All ranks, including officers, must be on base by midnight. Alcohol may not be purchased or consumed off base. Patronizing off-base bars and clubs is prohibited. Parties may not be held off base. Personally owned vehicles entering installations between midnight and 5 a.m. are subject to sobriety checkpoints. No servicemember on Okinawa may stay overnight off base unless it is their residence or approved hotel; however, these restrictions do not apply to those on special liberty or on leave outside of Okinawa.Okinawa’s previous liberty policy, originally imposed Japan-wide in late 2012 before it was eased slightly, allowed troops E-5 and below to stay out as late as 1 a.m., although all personnel, regardless of rank, were banned from drinking in public off base between midnight and 5 a.m.
“My intention is for all SOFA status personnel to consider their roles as ambassadors to Japan and good neighbors with the people of Okinawa, as reflected in their personal conduct during the period of mourning,” III MEF commander Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, who is expected to address a news conference Saturday, was quoted as saying in the statement.
“Additionally, we honor and mourn the tragedies affecting the victims of two heinous crimes. These incidents do not accurately represent the behavior of the more than 50,000 SOFA status personnel living in Okinawa who lawfully, peacefully and positively engage with our Okinawan neighbors on a daily basis.”
Gadson, who goes by his Japanese wife’s family name of Shinzato, reportedly told police he attacked Shimabukuro from behind with a stick while she was out for an evening walk before strangling her.
He has been charged with illegally disposing of her body, although other charges are possible.
Okinawa is home to more than half of the American troops stationed in Japan, and the recently elected prefectural governor ran on an anti-base platform that, along with the recent crimes, has fueled a vocal protest movement. There are plans to move a number of those forces to Guam, but the date has been repeatedly postponed.
A protest was held Wednesday in front of Kadena’s main gate to condemn the slaying and call for a smaller military footprint, revision of the SOFA and cancellation of a plan to build a new military runway at Henoko.
Approximately 2,000 people attended a rally Sunday in front of the main gate of Marine Corps headquarters on Camp Foster, and a mass Okinawa-wide rally is scheduled for June 19.