Hong Kong activists deny trespassing over Nanking massacre protest at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine
- Lawyers for Alex Kwok and Yim Man-wa argue act of burning tablet condemning war criminal is protected by country’s freedom of speech
- Shinto shrine honouring controversial Japanese war figures has led to frayed ties with Asian neighbours
Two Hong Kong activists arrested over a protest at a war shrine in Japan last week told a Tokyo district court on Wednesday they were not guilty of trespassing.
Alex Kwok Siu-kit and Yim Man-wa, of the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, were arrested in Japan on suspicion of starting a fire inside Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which has been at the centre of the country’s frayed relationship with its Asian neighbours.
According to submissions made by their lawyers, Kwok and Yim were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, and were detained by police last Wednesday. They had not been formally charged.
Quoting the pair’s lawyers last week, Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin said Kwok could be charged with arson – an offence punishable by a life sentence in Japan.
But there was no mention of arson in the lawyers’ submission on Wednesday. Keiichiro Ichinose and Naohiko Hasegawa argued that their clients were not guilty of trespassing.
The lawyers said the activists should be released because freedom of speech and all other forms of expression were guaranteed under Article 21 of the Japanese constitution.
They also noted that Kwok’s early morning protest was not intended to attract the attention of a large crowd or to affect others.
“His action cannot be unlawful. Even if it was, it was only minor,” the submission read.
For Yim, the lawyers said she was only filming Kwok’s actions and was not guilty of trespassing as her freedom was guaranteed under the constitution.
The Post was told that the hearing ended on Wednesday, but the judge had yet to make a decision on the case.
The pair went to the shrine in Tokyo at about 7am last Wednesday to call for the Japanese government to apologise over the Nanking massacre.
The incident came ahead of the 81st anniversary of the violence, which started in December 1937. 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.
Two videos of Kwok’s protest, recorded by Yim, were posted on the group’s Facebook page that day.
The first video shows Kwok standing at the entrance of the shrine, displaying a banner with the message: “Lest we forget the Nanking massacre. Call for Japan’s responsibility over the killings”.
The Shinto shrine is dedicated to 2.5 million Japanese people killed in conflicts, including 14 of Japan’s top second world war criminals, such as Hideki Tojo, the country’s wartime prime minister, who was executed in 1948.
In the video, Kwok stands before a small burning white box printed with the phrase “Class-A war criminal Hideki Tojo”. The prop appears to signify the ancestral tablet of Tojo.
“Down with militarism, Japan needs to apologise!” Kwok chants.
About 20 seconds into his protest, a security guard approaches Kwok, shouts at him, and asks him to put out the fire. The guard also calls for help on his radio transceiver, as Kwok starts to leave the scene.
The second video shows the security guard stopping Kwok from leaving, as three other guards arrive.
The Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, a Hong Kong-based activist group that asserts Chinese sovereignty over the isles in the East China Sea, said the pair were arrested by police on the day of the incident. The group had claimed responsibility for the protest at the shrine.