NAHA--Riot police have been accused of violating the freedom of the press after they grabbed reporters and removed them from a demonstration against U.S. military helipads in northern Okinawa Prefecture.
Two major newspapers here, The Okinawa Times and The Ryukyu Shimpo, each printed a statement protesting the manhandling of their reporters on Aug. 20.
The journalists were covering a clash between riot police and protesters demonstrating against a U.S. military helipad project.
The newspapers claimed the authorities were in “violation of freedom of the press” by disrupting the activity of their reporters.
They said the riot police seized their reporters’ arms and forcibly removed them from the protest site.
The demonstrators were staging a sit-in on a bridge over a prefectural road to obstruct the helipad project and riot police were sent in to remove them.
“Reporters' news-gathering activities were restricted for about 30 minutes despite showing their IDs to officers to prove that they were reporters," stated the Aug. 24 morning edition of The Okinawa Times.
“(The riot police actions) constituted the violation of the freedom of the press and we will not tolerate it,” it added.
The Ryukyu Shimpo also ran a comment from its editor in chief in its Aug. 21 morning edition in which he “strongly protested the violation of free speech.”
The prefectural police denied the accusation of trying to restrict the reporters’ activities in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun.
“Reporters did not wear armbands identifying themselves as reporters so it was difficult for us to recognize them,” an official said. “But we had no intention whatsoever to curb their activities.”
The Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers' Unions backed the newspapers.
“(The incident) constitutes a serious violation of the free press by the state, and it is unforgivable,” it read.
Construction of six helipads in Camp Gonsalves, the U.S. Marine Corps jungle warfare training area straddling the village of Higashi and neighboring Kunigami village started in 2007, in return for the return of a parcel of land to Japan. The deal was based on a 1996 bilateral agreement.
But the project was suspended after two were completed because of protests from islanders and other anti-U.S. base demonstrators.
The work resumed July 22, sparking continuing shoving matches between protesters and riot police.
Protesters usually build barricades and stage sit-ins to block the entry of vehicles to military construction sites.
Okinawa, which represents 0.6 percent of Japan’s land mass, is home to 74 percent of the U.S. military installations across the nation.