China-Japan relations

Two Hong Kong activists detained for Japan shrine protest could be released by next Saturday, say lawyers

  • Alex Kwok Siu-kit and Yim Man-wa were arrested on suspicion of trespassing and arson at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, linked to second world war criminals
  • The pair’s lawyers argued that their actions were protected by freedom of speech clauses in Japan’s constitution
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 3:10pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 9:12pm

Two Hong Kong activists detained in Tokyo over a protest at a war shrine last week could be released by next Saturday, according to their lawyer.

Alex Kwok Siu-kit and Yim Man-wa, of the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, were arrested in Japan on suspicion of trespassing at the capital’s Yasukuni Shrine and starting a fire at the site, which has been at the centre of the country’s frayed relationship with its neighbours.

They have not been formally charged, and have been detained by the city’s police.

A Tokyo district court on Friday granted the prosecution’s request to detain the pair for 10 days until this Saturday.

Their lawyer Keiichiro Ichinose explained that when their detention period expires, the Public Prosecutors Office would either charge the pair or ask the court for an extension of up to 10 more days. Otherwise, the pair would have to be released.

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While the activists’ allies in Hong Kong previously feared they might be charged with arson – an offence punishable by a life sentence in Japan – Ichinose said it was more likely that Yim would be released on Saturday at the earliest. 

As for Kwok, Ichinose said authorities could detain him for one more week, until next Saturday.

The lawyer added that the pair were likely to be referred to the Immigration Bureau upon the expiry of their detention.

Kwok and Yim were represented by Ichinose and another lawyer as they attended the Tokyo district court’s hearing on the reasoning for their detention on Wednesday. They told the judge that their detention, on suspicion of trespassing, was unjustified because freedom of speech and all other forms of expression were guaranteed under the Japanese constitution.

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“[Kwok’s] action cannot be unlawful. Even if it was, it was only minor,” the lawyers’ submission read.

As 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 pair went to the shrine in Tokyo at about 7am last Wednesday to call for the Japanese government to apologise for the 1938 Nanking massacre.

Two videos of Kwok’s protest, recorded by Yim, were posted on the activist group’s Facebook page that day.

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The first video shows Kwok standing at the entrance of the shrine, displaying a banner with the message: “Lest we forget the Nanking massacre.”

The Shinto shrine is dedicated to 2.5 million Japanese people killed in conflicts, including 14 of Japan’s highest-profile 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.

In December 2012, Kwok was also taken away by the police as he chanted slogans outside the Yasukuni Shrine. He was released by the police after a short investigation.