When three antiwar activists were detained by the Tokyo police for 75 days in 2004, the Nobel Prize-winning international rights group, Amnesty International, formally declared them to be "prisoners of conscience," thus tarring Japan's reputation with a brush that is ordinarily reserved for the world's most oppressive regimes.
A similar story is playing out in Okinawa as I write this. There, a 64-year-old antiwar activist has been held in detention on trivial charges for more than 70 days. Over the past two years of peaceful protests against U.S. military base expansion in northern Okinawa, Hiroji Yamashiro emerged as the face of Okinawan resistance, the man with a megaphone in hand who urged crowds of protesters to speak out. Arrested on Oct. 17 and denied visits by anyone other than his attorneys since then, he has been silenced.
Japan's criminal procedures are extremely harsh. Suspects can be held up to 23 days before the government is required to either file an indictment or release the detainee. Attorneys are not allowed to be present during interrogations. In Yamashiro's case, the police have employed the insidious practice of serial arrests on unrelated charges in order to ensure an extended detention. He remains behind bars.