Thousands protest alleged rape by US Marine in Japan’s Okinawa

File photo: Civic group members shout slogans and hold placards as they attend a protest over the alleged rape of a local woman by two US servicemen in Okinawa, in front of the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo. © Yoshikazu Tsuno
Residents of the Japanese island of Okinawa have taken to the streets to show their outrage against the alleged rape of a Japanese tourist by a US sailor. Thousands also aired their concerns about the island’s controversial US military base not being a good neighbor.

The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly supported the population’s anger, passing a resolution and releasing a statement that condemned the reported rape and demanded for the American military to enforce laws.

© Jiji Press

“We cannot help but say that the US military’s efforts and instructions have not been effective, and we feel deep resentment,” the assembly said, adding that it has called on the US military personnel numerous times before to ensure proper behavior.

Moreover, the assembly asked for Japan to review its Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US. The agreement sets the legal status for the American military personnel in Japan. Local lawmakers also called for a reduction in US military bases on the island. 

Earlier in March, local police arrested Justin Castellanos, who was based at the US Navy’s Camp Schwab, for allegedly raping a woman at a hotel in Naha in the south of Okinawa. 

Castellanos reportedly took a Japanese tourist into his hotel room after finding her asleep in the corridor and then proceeded to rape her. The US sailor has denied the charges.

READ MORE: Tokyo furious after US sailor arrested on suspicion of raping Japanese tourist in Okinawa

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga confirmed the incident had taken place.

“It was a serious crime in violation of women’s human rights and can never be tolerated,” Onaga said, according to Kyodo. “I feel strong resentment.”

The case triggered massive anger in Okinawa, where alleged rape by US military personnel is not a new phenomenon. The population is very sensitive to such incidents, especially after the infamous gang rape of a 12-year-old child in September 1995.

Okinawa government has been opposed to US military bases in the area ever since, calling for a reduction in US forces. As part of the latest efforts, the governor of Okinawa Onaga filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government to stop the relocation of US Marine Corps base Futenma to another part of the region.

Onaga’s lawsuit adds to an ongoing legal battle with Tokyo to revoke the government’s decision to construct a new military base for US troops in northern Okinawa.

Onaga took office in 2014 after winning on his anti-relocation promise. Earlier in October, he canceled a 2013 decision by former governor Hirokazu Nakaima allowing construction works at Nago, where the new United States Marine Corps (USMC) airbase was to be based.

Among other concerns, local residents blame the US military for pollution, noise, public disorder and crime.

Under SOFA, Okinawa hosts approximately 62 percent of the US troops in Japan. For the US it is a critical location due to its strategic reach to neighboring China, Russia and Southeast Asia.