Anti-base Sentiment Increases after Unreasonable Arrest at Henoko Protest

The residents of Okinawa have made their opposition to the new U.S. military base distinctly apparent. The new base destroys the rich natural environment of Henoko and ignores popular opinion in Okinawa. Furthermore, the U.S. military added fuel to the fire when it detained Okinawan citizens opposed to the new base. This detainment was the first of its kind, and, in so doing, the U.S. military has revealed that its priority is the military.

Approximately 2,800 people from a variety of different age groups participated in the protest against constructing a new base in Henoko. The protest took place in front of Camp Schwab, and both young couples carrying small children and grandparents holding the hands of grandchildren could be seen among the crowd. This was the third protest against the relocation of the U.S. Futenma airbase to Henoko, Nago.

Okinawan residents are furious with the Abe administration, which continues to push for land reclamation in spite of the anti-base sentiment that was revealed in Okinawa’s 2014 elections for mayor, governor and the House of Representatives. There is much resentment for the U.S. military’s unreasonable oppression of Okinawan residents.

The Abe administration has greatly overstepped its authority by dropping large concrete blocks onto the coral reef and destroying it. The administration must stop all construction on the new base at once.

Opposition in Okinawa is increasing as Japan Coast Guard officers threaten human rights and use excessive force to restrain women. Hiroji Yamashiro, head of the Okinawa Heiwa Undou Center (Okinawa peace movement center), and another man were detained in front of the base’s gates during a protest, four hours before a major rally. They were handed over to the Nago Police Station and arrested for trespassing on the base.

A few of the base’s security officers grabbed Yamashiro’s legs and dragged him onto the base while he was trying to stop a scuffle between them and some of the protestors. It is clear that he did not trespass of his own free will.

On Feb. 21, after increasing the chance of protests, the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa redrew the boundary line separating the base from the Okinawan public. Although conflicts between residents and military security near the boundary line have been frequent prior to this incident, this was the first time someone was arrested under the Special Criminal Act.

One cannot help but wonder whether Yamashiro and the other man were unfairly targeted when the U.S. military used excessive force to detain them. The arrest seems unreasonable, and it is debatable whether it can be defended in court. Okinawa Prefectural Police should release them.

The incident at hand goes beyond the Marine Corps viewing the residents of Okinawa as enemies and losing their temper due to heightening protests. In this instance, they set out to remove citizens by themselves.

As Hiroshi Ashitomi, co-representative of the Helicopter Base Objection Association, states, “We are at our limit. We want all bases to be removed.” Anti-base sentiment in Okinawa is reaching critical levels. This may be the turning point, where both the Japanese and U.S. governments undermine their own desires to stabilize the U.S. base in Okinawa.

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