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Anti-base Okinawa activist released after five months in detention

Kyodo

A prominent leader of the anti-base movement in Okinawa was released on bail Saturday after spending five months in jail over minor offenses.

The Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court ordered Hiroji Yamashiro, 64, head of the Okinawa Peace Action Center, released on bail, upholding the Naha District Court’s decision on Friday. Prosecutors had appealed the district court ruling.

Yamashiro was arrested in October for allegedly cutting barbed wire at a U.S. military training area in Higashi, Okinawa. He has also led groups opposed to the relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma further south in Ginowan. Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

At his first hearing at the district court Friday, Yamashiro admitted to the charge of destroying property by cutting barbed wire. But he pleaded not guilty to two other charges: the forcible obstruction of a business and assault.

Yamashiro and other activists are accused of piling some 1,480 concrete blocks in front of the gate to Camp Schwab in Nago in January 2016 in a bid to prevent the delivery of equipment and materials needed for the relocation project there.

He is also suspected of injuring a local defense bureau official by grabbing his shoulder and shaking him last August near the U.S. military training area in Higashi.

The high-profile detention prompted human rights groups including Amnesty International Japan to call for Yamashiro’s immediate release.