December 1, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo
The police’s investigation is a form of oppression against the anti-base protests. Conducting a compulsory investigation of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center and arresting its Chairman Hiroji Yamashiro for the third time and detaining him for a long period is going too far. One cannot help but feel that this goes against the philosophy of “fairness and impartiality” that the Police Law insists on.
The Okinawa prefectural police confiscated computers etc. from the Peace Movement Center, which is the hub for military base protests and peace movements. Information regarding those involved in the movements was handed over to the public authorities, effectively shrinking the anti-base protests. The need to investigate and confiscate is questionable. The need to detain Chairman Yamashiro for a long period is similarly questionable. All of this is making Okinawans wonder if the police are supporting the national policy to construct a base. This has greatly wavered Okinawans’ trust in the Okinawan police.
Doubt in the need to investigate
There are many doubts regarding the police’s investigation. For example, why are the compulsory investigation of the case in January and the arrest of chairman and others only happening now, close to a year after the fact?
Many suspect impression management is at play to suppress protests against the new Henoko base construction. The ruling party of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, namely the Liberal Democratic Party, approves of the construction. A spokesman from the party says, “The main battlefield will move from Takae to Henoko. If the construction (in Henoko) resumes, then the protests will rekindle as well. Policing is and will be needed.” It seems that they waited for the right moment to conduct the investigation.
Supposedly, the aim of the investigation was rooted in the suspicion of destruction of business by force via stacking blocks on the road in front of the gate to the U.S. military base. It was done openly in front of the police, evidently making it easy to determine what had happened and who was responsible for it. But is there really a need to arrest the chairman etc. and confiscate documents from the Peace Movement Center to build a case for that?
A spokesman of the Okinawan police claims that “It took some time to determine the suspects and for a corroborative investigation.” But this still does not rid of the suspicion toward confiscating massive amounts of documents.
Perhaps their real aim was not only to build a case against stacking those blocks, but also to collect information on a wide range of topics, such as the protests against the new Henoko base, construction of the helipads in the Northern Training Area, and on those involved. Doubt increases as people question the preparatory police activities that seem to also include managing future protests in its scope.
Detaining Chairman Yamashiro for more than 40 days is also a problem. Once again, there is doubt in the need for an investigation that involves detaining a person for a long period over petty suspicions, such as destruction of property etc. It also is a human rights issue. At the same time, it greatly affects the anti-base protests.
Many legal experts, such as lawyers and college professors, have pointed out the lack of need for a compulsory investigation. They say that it suppresses freedom of expression and political activity. People suspect that the real aim of the compulsory investigation was to shrink the protests. The police are supposed to stand between the government that tries to push through with the construction of the base and Okinawans who oppose it. They are supposed to conduct police activities with “fairness and impartiality” However, the police are no longer able to strike a balance between the two parties; this is how they are being seen.
Meanwhile, two newspaper journalists covering the Takae helipad construction were detained and removed from the scene by riot police. The policemen involved in this incident have neither been punished, nor have they apologized. Even in this regard, the police have lost their balance.
Opposing the bases is a legitimate right
There is fear over the government and the police becoming one entity. In last year’s Police Law amendments, “Helping with the Cabinet’s important policies” was added to the police’s duty. It makes one wonder if the construction of the new Henoko base is being categorized as one of “the cabinet’s important policies.” At the very least, a series of police activities that include the thorough removal of helipad protestors makes one feel that preceding doubt.
Lawyers are criticizing the polices’ response, calling it worse than when Okinawa was under U.S. military control. Some experts are even concerned about the dangerous signs of a “police state” in which the police support the government’s national policies.
The government justifies the construction of the new Henoko base and policies to focus bases in Okinawa with security reasons, such as “removing hazards from Futenma” and “Okinawa’s geological advantage.” But the reality is that the government continues to push for Okinawa to bear the heavy burden of hosting the bases under the pretense of “national interest.” Okinawans are not the attackers, but the victims.
For Okinawans, who suffer damages, to push for reducing the heavy burden of hosting bases and to oppose a new base and facilities is a legitimate right. For the government and police as one entity to oppress asserting one’s legitimate right based on democracy and local autonomy and acts to protest against the base is unacceptable.
Removing the U.S. military bases is a long and hard battle for Okinawans. But justice is on Okinawa’s side. People have no choice but to persevere and continue to fight without bowing down to the unjust actions of the government and police.