Japanese media accuse police of ‘violating press freedom’ at anti-US military protest

Two Okinawa newspapers have accused the Japanese riot police of using force to remove their journalists from a protest against the construction of US military helipads in the area last week.

The Okinawa Times and the Ryukyu Shimpo newspapers said that the security forces acted in “violation of freedom of the press” by disrupting the activity of their reporters at the rally.

According to the outlets, the journalists had their hands twisted by police while they were being forcibly removed from the site of the demonstration.

The protest was against the construction of US military helipads in the small village of Higashi, in the north of the Okinawa prefecture.

“Reporters’ news-gathering activities were restricted for about 30 minutes despite showing their IDs to officers to prove that they were reporters," the Okinawa Times stated.

The paper warned that the actions “constituted a violation of the freedom of the press and we will not tolerate it.”

The Ryukyu Shimpo also ran a piece in which the outlet “strongly protested the violation of free speech” by the security forces.

The papers were backed by the Japanese Federation of Newspaper Workers’ Unions, which called the actions of the police “unforgivable” and said they constituted “a serious violation of the free press by the state.”

However, Okinawa police denied the accusations, instead putting the blame for the incident on the journalists themselves.

“Reporters did not wear armbands identifying themselves as reporters so it was difficult for us to recognize them,” a police official told the Asahi Shimbun paper.

“But we had no intention whatsoever to curb their activities,” he added.

Chota Takamine, an independent journalist disagreed with the official police reaction. In an interview to RT he said the law enforcement officers continued with their action even after reporters “said they were journalists.”

The incident is “a clear case of violation of press [freedoms],” Takamine added. He also noted that the construction of the helipads is being closely monitored by the government that effectively puts “pressure” on law enforcers to disperse any demonstrators trying to hamper the process.

The US military is building six helipads at the Camp Gonsalves training area in Higashi village as part of a deal to revert 4,000 hectares of land to Japanese control.

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Two helipads were built before the project was frozen in 2007, when a wave of demonstrations from locals and others who oppose the American military presence in the country.

Work at the site resumed on July 22 this year, reigniting the protest movement in northern Okinawa.

The demonstrators claim that more helipads would put the population at risk due to low-flying aircraft, and that construction would endanger the environment.

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At various times protestors have built barricades, staged sit-ins and used their cars to block the entry of vehicles to the military construction sites.

The rallies often end with clashes as police attempt to disperse the crowds.

On Monday, two people were hospitalized after scuffles with the security forces, including an 87-year-old campaigner, the Japan Times reported.