Editorial: Removal of reporters in Takae violates freedom of the press

August 22, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

State power mercilessly suppresses protest activities carried out by citizens on the basis of freedom of thought and belief. At this moment in time, the only places in Japan where that is happening are Henoko, Nago City and Takae, Higashi Village.

It is the duty of the media to be at the scene to engrave, as history, sites where the maturity of the country’s democracy is being sharply questioned. Nonetheless, hard-line security measures, which include sending in the riot police, have led to the removal and detainment of reporters on the job.

Freedom of the press is central to any democracy, and these acts, which violate that freedom, must be protested strongly.

Reporters from Okinawa’s two newspapers who were at the scene to cover protests against the construction of new helicopter landing pads (helipads) in the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area were confined, together with protesters, between riot police vehicles.

On the morning of August 20, the riot police began removing protesters who were staging a sit-in on Takae Bridge along prefectural route 70 in an attempt to block construction vehicles carrying supplies into the site.

A Ryukyu Shimpo reporter was twice grabbed by both arms by the riot police while filming the protesters being removed. The reporter was then pushed from behind for a distance of roughly 40 meters. The second time, the reporter was confined between the police vehicles. As a result of being wrongfully detained for approximately 15 minutes, the reporter was unable to film the protesters being removed.

The prefectural police claim that the removal and detainment were conducted to ensure safety, and that it was not clear that the reporter was a member of the press on the job. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the reporter was wearing a Ryukyu Shimpo arm band and repeatedly protested that she was a reporter, yet was forcibly removed from the scene nonetheless. There is no question that reporting was obstructed on the basis of a clear intent to do so.

At the site of the construction of a new base in Henoko as well, citizens continue to clash with the riot police and the coast guard. The case of a coast guard member climbing on top of the shoulders of a film director on a boat in Oura Bay is one example in which reporting shed light on the reality of the excess security taking place there.

In that case, a coast guard member climbed on top of the shoulders of a film director who was filming from a boat. The Ryukyu Shimpo published a series of photographs of the incident as verification, forcing the Japan Coast Guard, which had initially denied the incident, to switch to an explanation that the coast guard member had “used his whole body to prevent [the director] from falling off the boat.” If the incident had not been reported, the Coast Guard would likely have continued to deny that it had ever happened.

In April, the United Nations published a preliminary report on the findings of an investigation of the state of freedom of expression in Japan. The report sounded a warning that excessive force was being used against protesters. In light of international standards, such excessive security measures are clearly a violation of human rights.

In order to put a check on the excessive exercise of authority, it is essential for members of the press to work in the field. Detaining reporters puts democracy and human rights at risk. Such acts are unacceptable on numerous levels.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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