Two citizens' associations have condemned as a "deliberate murder attempt" action said to have been taken by contract workers for a Japanese government agency against the co-leader of one of the groups - writes Hisashi Yukimoto from Tokyo.
They said that the workers tampered with the underwater diving equipment of the Rev Natsume Taira, of the Citizens Coalition for Peace, while he was engaged in a protest against work being carried out in connection with developments at a military base.
"One of the workers pinned me to the seabed, and then another worker closed the valve of my oxygen cylinder," said Taira, who asserted that he choked and had difficulty breathing due to the alleged attack.
The incident is said to have occurred on 21 July 2007, when Taira, a pastor of the United Church of Christ in Japan, was diving near Henoko, an east coast village on Okinawa island in southwestern Japan. Taira was protesting about the building of a new heliport off the US military base of Camp Schwab.
In a statement on 21 July, Taira's group, together with the Conference Opposing the Heliport Construction, demanded an apology from the company employing the workers performing the survey, IDEA Consultants, Inc., and from the defence facility office in Naha City, Okinawa.
"There was no such act," a spokesperson for the Defence Facilities Administration Agency's bureau in Naha was quoted as saying on 23 July in Stars and Stripes, the US military newspaper.
According to Stars and Stripes on 25 July, the divers said it was the protester who was causing problems as they were inspecting underwater sonar equipment. Stars and Stripes added that Taira said he was attempting to disrupt the government divers' work by hanging on to part of an underwater platform where the sonar devices were installed. The newspaper quoted a DFAA spokesman as saying, "The divers … asked the protester not to disrupt their work. We have reported it to the coast guard, who we understand are investigating the matter."
In his own statement, Taira said, "Their (the workers') leader helped me when I came up (out of the sea) in a hurry." The pastor added that he had been trying to build a trusting relationship with the workers. "So, I never thought that the valve was closed, and I said to them, 'Thank you for your help. I guess I have used up all the air'.
"But then I checked [the cylinder] and found that the valve was closed, when there was as much as 150 mega pascals of air remaining," Taira said. A full cylinder can contain a measure of 200 mega pascals of air. "Of course, my fellows on the vessels never touched the valve. The situation was clearly that the diving worker touched it."
The pastor wrote on his church's Web site on 22 July, "The workers' violence against the protesters, such as punching them and kicking them, is escalating these days."
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]