Japan: Protester nearly killed at Henoko Bay

An activist protesting environmental surveys currently being conducted in Henoko Bay (Okinawa) in preparation for the construction of a new military base was reportedly nearly killed when government-contracted divers attacked him. While the Defense Facilities Administration Agency (DFAA) denies the incident, the activist himself, pastor Taira Natsume, released a statement last Thursday which confirms the sequence of events as he experienced them [Ja].

A blog entry at Kichi Kensetsu Soshi [Stop Construction of the Base] describes the event in detail:


This is information [for the period] up to the evening of July 21st. Today while carrying out blockade activities a terrible thing happened. Tokyo Shimbun [Tokyo newspaper] was quick to publish an article about it. As you would expect. [Translator's note: The author is making reference to the fact that Tokyo Shimbun places emphasis on social issues such as this one.]


In [an article entitled] “Emergency information from Henoko” posted at 3pm, we reported that blockade activities had been halted due to the excessive violence of the divers on duty [contracted by the government]. I am putting up an explanation of the process [following the incident] and an emergency statement about the incident itself.


First, before 6am today, they had five fleets of 10 workboats deployed, and when the blockade operations involving one boat, one inflatable raft, and three canoes arrived, maintenance work on the passive sonar system had already been completed. It was not possible to pursue them as far as operations in Kayou north of Oura Bay, but when [protesters] tried to block operations in the area of the coral reefs, the contractor's divers on duty repeatedly attacked the protesters, beating them with hammers, kicking them, and pulling off their masks.


One of the workers grabbed one of our divers and held his arms behind his back, and then another worker closed the valve on his oxygen tank so that he was left in a state of being unable to breathe and unable to rise to the surface of the water. Our diver came within a finger's breadth of dying. He was at a depth of 3-4 metres underwater, so he was somehow able to float to the surface, but it was an extremely dangerous thing that they did.


On top of that, if he had been deeper underwater, then he probably would have lost consciousness on his way back up, or he could have seriously damaged his lungs. For this reason, because of the extreme harshness of the violence that we were facing, we halted our operations, and from 3pm we held a press conference at the office of the “Group to Protect the Lives of People in Henoko Bay” [辺野古の命を守る会]. This is not something that can simply be categorized as negligence, it is “attempted murder with the intent to kill”. Below I have attached the “emergency statement”.

The statement itself (quoted in the blog entry) outlines the background to reasons for the protests, describes the involvement of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), and notes that the survey operations have continued despite local resistance. It also repeats information about the incident itself.

The blog entry then continues:


Anyway, the incident today was something more than just an “attempted murder”, it was more like an “attempted assassination”. In a certain sense, three people attacking someone at the bottom of the ocean, where nobody can see them, holding his hands behind his back and closing the valve to his oxygen tank — this is not intimidation, this is blatant admission of “intent to kill”.


If you hold his hands behind his back, close the valve and cut off the [flow of] air, then check to make sure that he has lost consciousness and re-open the valve, then no proof is left behind and it is possible to frame the whole thing as an accidental death, caused by Natsume's loss of consciousness [and not related to anyone else]. The regulator equipment, which regulates the pressure of oxygen from the oxygen tank to suit the underwater depth, does not release air unless the diver is breathing.


In other words, even if the valve is re-opened, if the diver is unconscious then they cannot breathe, and they therefore drown to death. The three divers on duty [working for the government contractor] are pros in this kind of knowledge. The people who carried out this attempted assassination are completely disqualified both as divers who spend their lives in the sea and as human beings.

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