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Japan student arrested in Hong Kong wanted to show protesters' reality: Mainichi interview

Hikaru Ida is seen re-enacting how police in Hong Kong restrained him when he was arrested, in Tokyo in November 2019. (Mainichi/Mei Nammo)

TOKYO -- Hikaru Ida, 21, a third-year student at Tokyo University of Agriculture who was detained in Hong Kong after being arrested at the scene of continuing clashes between demonstrators and police, told the Mainichi Shimbun in an exclusive interview that he wanted to show what was happening with the protests to the people home in Japan.

When under local police questioning, he said he had been in Hong Kong to sightsee. But speaking to the Mainichi, Ida said he was told to give that response, and that police wanted to avoid political problems. "In truth, I wanted to show people in Japan what was really going on there (in Hong Kong)," Ida said.

He was arrested along with fellow students and others on the night of Nov. 17, under suspicion of participating in a riot on the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus when he left the premises with members of the press and others. His questioning by police was carried out with an interpreter present.

Ida told them, "I wanted to show the protests to the people of Japan. I wasn't involved in any violent acts," but he said the police officer responded, "Don't say political stuff like you took part in demonstrations. It was sightseeing, wasn't it?"

Following discussions with the authorities, and with a possibility of early release under consideration, Ida said that he had been in Hong Kong as a tourist. The questioning then ended. His case was scrapped without indictment, and he was freed on the night of Nov. 19, returning to Japan the following day.

On the way police handled him, Ida said, "I feel like, to avoid a diplomatic incident, I was guided to respond in a way that would lead to a lenient handling of my case." Some media outlets reported that he went to Hong Kong Disneyland, and then on to the protest site, but Ida told the Mainichi, "I don't even know where that place (Disneyland) is. It was probably influenced by their attempts to emphasize I was a tourist and alter the impression of why I was there."

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus is seen barricaded and with items scattered around on Nov. 14, 2019, in Hong Kong. The sign in the center of the frame reads "People of Hong Kong." (Photo courtesy of Hikaru Ida)

Soon after Ida arrived in Hong Kong on Nov. 14, he went to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which was close to his hotel. He was able to enter the campus after presenting his Tokyo University of Agriculture student ID at the entrance to the facility.

Speaking to the students in English, they told him he could take photos as long as he didn't capture their faces. They were reportedly happy for him to get the word out about what was happening in Hong Kong.

The campus, accessible only to students, was in a state of disarray, with barricades and mounds of bricks piled high. There were also umbrellas scattered around, which were used to hide Molotov cocktails and bows and arrows behind them. "The atmosphere was tense, like war was about to break out," Ida said.

Ida has a strong interest in current social affairs, and has previously visited the Henoko area in the city of Nago, in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, where there is strong opposition to proposals to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma there from its current location in the city of Ginowan. Although he doesn't speak Cantonese, he decided he wanted to see what people of his generation were doing to seek freedom, and went to Hong Kong in October.

On Nov. 17, the fourth day of his latest visit, he found that the scene at the university had changed, with police vehicles firing water cannons and tear gas continuously at the site. Although Ida didn't get involved in the violence, he did put on a gas mask and goggles given to him there.

He described how water cannon trucks, which were initially around 100 meters from him, gradually came closer, and how his right leg became dowsed in water with tear gas agents in it. He returned to his hotel to shower after his leg developed a hot, stinging pain. He then realized the solution was also in his hair, and the symptoms didn't pass for some time.

As the date for his return flight drew sooner, he entered the university to go and say goodbye to the students inside. But when he tried to leave, police stopped him and asked why he was there. Ida immediately responded in English, saying "sightseeing." Police then swore at Ida in English and kicked him before arresting him. They restrained Ida's hands behind his back using a plastic zip tie, and bundled him into a police car.

Ida was taken to a police station storage, where students and others under arrest were being gathered. He was subsequently detained in a room with other students. One of them appeared as young as 16.

Ida said that when he asked one of the students whether they would continue to protest after this, one said sadly, "I don't think I can now. If you're arrested once, they really oppress you."

When those who were put on release left, the people remaining under arrest began singing "Glory to Hong Kong," the protest movement's anthem. Their quiet voices became a great chorus as they reached the song's conclusion.

Looking back on his experience, Ida said, "The police, who are meant to keep the peace for their citizens, are now on the side of those who attack the people. Even as they suffer, everyone there voiced their resolve to fight."

Online, there have been a number of responses to Ida's case, with some criticizing him with comments like, "Don't go around thinking you're a journalist." When asked about it, he said, "I can't deny there are many opinions on this." He added, "I have directly apologized and thanked the consular staff who came to the police station as well as my family and friends who worried about me."

(Japanese original by Satoshi Tokairin and Mei Nammo, City News Department)

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