Okinawans protest bases after murder linked to former marine

Source:Xinhua Published: 2016/6/21 21:23:01

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Okinawa in Japan's southernmost prefecture on Sunday to express their ongoing anger at the disproportionate presence of US military personnel on the island and the crimes committed by them, in particular the brutal rape and murder of a local woman by a base-linked worker recently.

The rally took place in a park in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa, and saw around 65,000 protesters united in calling for the withdrawal of the US military on the island and the urgent review over an archaic agreement inked between the US and Japan governing the handling of incidents caused by US military personnel in Japan.

The protesters, the majority of whom were dressed in black in spite of the scorching heat to show their respects for the murdered woman, holding placards and shouting slogans like "US Military Out!" and "How many more crimes will we suffer?" as well as "Relocate the (US) bases outside Okinawa," and chanting like "We want our land back!"

The rally, the biggest organized protest in Okinawa since three US servicemen viciously raped an elementary schoolgirl in 1995, follows the alleged rape, murder and dumping of a 20-year-old local woman by Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, 32, a former US marine.

The accused has not been cooperating with local investigators and investigators have said that Shinzato has remained silent during interrogations since May 20.

Anti-US sentiment is reaching a fever pitch on the island where 75 percent of US bases in Japan are located, with the subtropical island itself accounting for just 1 percent of Japan's total land mass, following the latest rape and murder.

This crime comes on the heels of a drink driving incident and another account of rape by a serviceperson in a hotel in Naha, as well as the brutal attack by a high-ranking military official on a Japanese female student onboard a commercial flight to Japan.

And the father of the murdered girl has been left devastated and an entire prefecture shocked and worried about their safety.

"Why did it have to be my daughter? Why did she have to be killed?" exclaimed the victim's father in an open letter he read aloud at the protest.

"So as not to have another victim, the people in the prefecture can unite and make it possible for all bases in Okinawa to be removed," the father of the murdered girl urged.

As for Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, a staunch advocate of lessening the burdens of the islanders, and who has tried to block the central government's controversial plans to relocate a US base within the prefecture, he expressed his deepest condemnation of the latest attack during the rally.

The Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement was originally inked in Washington in 1960, and many politicians such as Onaga, along with a substantial proportion of the public, believe it doesn't do enough to hold US personnel who commit crimes to account.

Under the current agreement, US personnel can be granted a great deal of legal autonomy.

While the Japanese court system has jurisdiction over most crimes committed by US service members, if the accused was "acting in official duty," or if the victim was another American, the US justice system is used, not Japan's, despite the location.

The majority of US military personnel are exempt from Japan's visa and passport laws and past offenders have dodged the Japanese legal system by being transferred back to the US before being charged.

Another loophole that exists in the agreement is that unless an offender is arrested outside of a US base by Japanese police or investigators, the US authorities are allowed to retain custody of that individual.

This is a commentary of the Xinhua News Agency.

Posted in: Voices

blog comments powered by Disqus