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Rally calling for release of Okinawan activists protesting U.S. bases held in Tokyo

Journalist Satoshi Kamata speaks to a crowd of some 350 people at a rally calling for the release of Hiroji Yamashiro, an Okinawan activist protesting U.S. military bases, at the House of Councillors Members' Office Building in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Jan. 12, 2016. (Mainichi)

A rally calling for the release of members of a grassroots movement in Okinawa who were arrested protesting the construction of Osprey helipads for the U.S. Marine Corps was held in Tokyo on Jan. 12.

Hosted by writer Keiko Ochiai and pundit Makoto Sataka, among others, and held in the House of Councillors Members' Office Building in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, the rally was attended by some 350 people, with many left standing as the number of participants exceeded organizers' expectations.

Head of the Okinawa Heiwa Undo Center, Hiroji Yamashiro, 64, was arrested in October 2016 by Okinawa Prefectural Police on charges of destruction of property when he cut through barbed wire that the Defense Ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau had installed around the U.S. Marine Corps Jungle Warfare Training Center, also known as Camp Gonsalves, which spans the villages of Kunigami and Higashi in northern Okinawa Prefecture. Residents and activists have been protesting the construction of helipads in the area for the U.S. military's MV-22 Osprey aircraft.

Yamashiro was subsequently slapped with additional arrest warrants, including one for setting down blocks in front of a gate at U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in November 2016 to prevent construction vehicles from entering the premises to carry out work required to build a new base there. He has since been indicted on three charges and remains in detention, and is only allowed visits from attorneys.

Rally participants criticized the government's clampdown on grassroots activism, with journalist Satoshi Kamata calling Yamashiro a political prisoner. Yamashiro, a long-time leader of the anti-base movement, temporarily retreated from the front lines in 2015 to undergo treatment for malignant lymphoma.

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