NAHA, OKINAWA PREFECTURE – Police have arrested two Japanese activists who oppose construction of the Futenma replacement base in Okinawa Prefecture after they were detained by the U.S. military for allegedly trespassing at the gate of Camp Schwab.
One of the pair is Hiroji Yamashiro, who heads a local activist group, the Okinawa Heiwa Undo Center.
Camp Schwab is adjacent to where the construction of the new air base is under way in the Henoko area of the city of Nago.
The base is being built to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, currently located in Ginowan in the prefecture.
Trespassing on a U.S. base violates a law based on the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States.
About 500 demonstrators converged on Nago Police Station, criticizing the U.S. military’s brief detainment of the two activists Sunday. About 20 police officers were dispatched to guard the building’s entrance.
“They believe they will stop protesters from raising their voice against the construction of the base in the Henoko district by detaining them, but they’re wrong,” said an 80-year-old woman from Naha who was among those calling for the protesters’ release.
Activists had gathered at the gate of Camp Schwab to protest work on the new base. The organizer said there were about 2,800 people present. Some held banners reading “We take a firm stand against landfill in Henoko” and chanted slogans.
Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine also criticized the U.S. military and the Okinawan police for arresting the pair.
“The people of Okinawa need to team together as that’s the only way to counter such strong power,” Inamine said. “Let’s raise our voices and present our demand to both the U.S. and the Japanese governments.”
Protester Takeryu Toguchi, a 17-year-old high student in Nago, said the construction site off Henoko threatens the survival of dugongs that live in the area.
“I can hear an anguished cry out of the ocean,” the student said. “We cannot turn away from those sea creatures.”