Okinawans protest murder by ex-Marine ahead of Obama’s Japan visit

Okinawa residents stage a protest against a murder of the 20-year-old Rina Shimabukuro, in front of the gate of Camp Foster in Kitanakagusu, Okinawa prefecture on May 22, 2016. © Jiji Press
Japanese authorities demanded a better response to crimes committed by US soldiers and contractors in Okinawa, as thousands protested the rape and murder of a young Japanese woman by a former Marine on the eve of President Barack Obama’s visit.

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, and requested that the PM arrange a meeting with Obama to discuss the problem. The US president will arrive in Japan on Thursday, for a Group of Seven meeting in Mie Prefecture.

Abe will “strongly demand that the US side take effective and convincing measures to prevent incidents and accidents involving US servicemen and others,” the government’s spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Monday, as quoted by Japan Times.

“This is a crime simply because US military bases exist (in Okinawa),” Onaga told reporters after meeting with Abe, according to Mainichi Shimbun.

Okinawans are outraged by the rape and murder of Rina Shimabukuro, 20, an office worker from the city of Uruma who disappeared on April 28. Her body was found last Thursday after a confession from Kenneth Franklin Gadson, 32, a former US Marine who currently works as a contractor at the Kadena Air Base. Gadson – who goes by his wife’s Japanese surname of Shinzato – confessed to the police that he strangled and stabbed Shimabukuro, before stuffing her into a suitcase and transporting her body into the woods, according to Japan Times.

More than two thousand people gathered Sunday in front of the US Marine Corps headquarters at Camp Foster to protest the death of Shimabukuro, the latest in a long string of crimes involving US military personnel and contractors on Okinawa.

Protesters waved signs that read “Never forgive Marine’s rape,”“You, Killer, Go Home” and “Withdraw all the US forces from Okinawa,” according to US military newspaper Stars and Stripes.

“Any apologies from military leaders sound empty because nothing has ever worked, and we, Okinawan people, all know it. Enough is enough. All the military bases must be closed,” said Shigekichi Oshiro, 64, one of the protesters.

Governor Onaga, Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, and Minister for Okinawa Affairs Aiko Shimajiri joined some 800 relatives and friends at Shimabukuro’s funeral on Saturday, according to Asahi Shimbun.

Activists are calling for another protest in June, which they hope will rival the 85,000-strong 1995 demonstration against the rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by three US servicemen, Japan Times reported.

Despite constituting a mere 0.6 percent of Japanese territory, Okinawa accounts for 74 percent of US military facilities in Japan, which take up 18 percent of the island, according to Japan Times. US forces occupied the island in 1945 after a bloody three-month battle, and kept it as a military base until 1972, when it was returned to Japan.

Since then, however, there have been “26 cases of murder, 129 cases of rape, 394 cases of burglary and 25 cases of arson,” involving members of the US military, civilian workers, and dependents, according to the prefecture police. The most recent case involved a US sailor who raped a Japanese tourist at a hotel in March. 

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter spoke with Minister Nakatani on Saturday and “extended his sincere apologies to the victim’s family and friends,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters. Carter added that the Department of Defense will “do all it can to prevent incidents like this in the future,” Cook said.

“Despite this shocking and tragic incident,” the Pentagon spokesman said, the two defense ministers “reaffirmed that the US-Japan alliance remains steadfast and continues to serve as the cornerstone of peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Catherine Jane Fisher, who spent years fighting for justice after she was raped by a US sailor in Japan in 2002, is not convinced that the apology will make a difference.

“Each time that it happens US military and the Japanese government [say they’ll] ensure that it never happens, but it just keeps on happening,” Fisher told RT. “People who are not outraged about this, they are just not paying attention.”