Yasukuni Shrine

Two Hong Kong activists charged for trespassing in Japan over protest at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine

  • Trial could begin in February, according to duo’s lawyer, who earlier said they could be released on December 28
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 8:34am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 10:26pm

Two Hong Kong activists arrested in Tokyo over a protest at a war shrine were charged for trespassing on Wednesday, and their first trial could take place in February, according to their lawyer.

The move came as a surprise as the lawyer had predicted earlier that the pair were unlikely to be charged, and that they could be released on December 28.

Their Japanese lawyers said the prosecution highlighted Tokyo’s concern over criticism from foreigners on war issues.

Alex Kwok Siu-kit and Yim Man-wa, of the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, were arrested in Japan on December 12 on suspicion of trespassing at the capital’s Yasukuni Shrine and starting a fire at the site.

The shrine is dedicated to 2.5 million Japanese people killed in conflicts, including 14 of Japan’s top second world war criminals. It has been at the centre of frayed ties with the country’s Asian neighbours.

Further detention looms for Hong Kong activists arrested over protest at Yasukuni Shrine

One of their lawyers, Keiichiro Ichinose, told the Post: “On December 26, Kwok and Yim were charged at the Tokyo district court for trespassing in a building. The first trial is predicted to be around February next year.”

Videos posted on the Facebook page of the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, which had claimed responsibility for the actions of the two, showed Kwok burning a symbolic ancestral tablet of Hideki Tojo, the country’s wartime prime minister, who was executed in 1948.

In a message sent to the Post on Thursday, the pair’s lawyers Ichinose and Naohiko Hasegawa said that if convicted, there was a 30 to 40 per cent chance that Kwok would be imprisoned, while Yim could be given a suspended sentence.

It was very difficult to get an acquittal in criminal trials in Japan, the lawyers wrote.  

Asked if the two would apply for bail, the lawyers said only that even if they were granted bail, the duo were likely to be detained by the Immigration Bureau.

Ichinose and Hasegawa said the prosecution of Kwok and Yim underlined the Shinzo Abe government’s “determination to suppress foreigners’ criticisms of Japan based on war responsibility and historical issues”, especially with an amended law to encourage the import of foreign labour set to take effect in April next year.

The lawyers said Hongkongers and pro-democracy activists should show more support for the duo, especially when war responsibility issues were at stake.

Hong Kong activists deny trespassing in Tokyo shrine protest

“The pair, especially Kwok, were shocked that they were prosecuted,” the lawyers said. “They need encouragement, assistance … and collaboration between the Japanese lawyers and the Hong Kong side.”

The lawyers also confirmed that Kwok had launched a hunger strike at the detention centre in Tokyo on December 23 to protest his “unjustified treatment”. He told officers that he was suffering from an abdominal pain on December 25 and was expected to be taken to a hospital on Thursday.

Members of the committee, together with Yim’s mother and Kwok’s mother and daughter, protested outside Hong Kong’s Immigration Department on Thursday, and urged the authority to send officers to go to Tokyo with family members to help the pair.

The group had earlier marched to the Chinese foreign ministry’s office in Hong Kong on December 24, and urged the ministry to help “rescue” Yim and Kwok.

Could joint sovereignty solve the Diaoyu Islands dispute?

The lawyer previously argued in court that the pair’s detention was unjustified because freedom of speech and all other forms of expression were guaranteed under the Japanese constitution.

Kwok and Yim had gone to the shrine in Tokyo at about 7am on December 12 to call on the Japanese government to apologise for the Nanking massacre, which took place between December 1937 and January 1938.

China says 300,000 people died under the brutality of the Japanese military as they destroyed the city now known as Nanjing. The occupation remains a source of bad blood between the two Asian powers.

The Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands is a Hong Kong-based activist group that asserts Chinese sovereignty over the isles in the East China Sea, which have been at the centre of a long-standing dispute between China and Japan.