A mischief-making teenager has been arrested by police after posting an online video threatening to fly his drone at the jam-packed Sanja Matsuri festival in Tokyo’s Asakusa district.
“I will go to Sanja Matsuri. That is because it is not prohibited from shooting (scenes of the event). In festivals, rude acts are tolerated,” the boy, 15, said in the video.
The suspect, who cannot be named because he is a minor, has received repeated warnings from police for flying or attempting to fly a drone at historic sites, including temples, and near the Diet building.
The video threat was one too many, and police arrested him May 21 on suspicion of obstructing duties of people working at the festival, which ran from May 15 to 17.
However, the boy has denied police interpretations of the video, saying, “(In my posting on a video-sharing site) I am not saying that I will fly a drone.”
The arrest has drawn mixed reactions from experts as the suspect was still only 15, and also because it is not illegal to fly or attempt to fly drones in Japan except for in limited areas such as near airports.
The boy, who lives in Yokohama, posted the video on a video-sharing website on the eve of Sanja Matsuri.
As a result, festival organizers had to strengthen security and issue posters warning visitors not to fly drones at the event.
Because of this, the boy was regarded by police as obstructing the organizers from performing their regular duties.
As about 1.5 million people were expected to visit one of Japan’s biggest street festivals, it was feared a major accident could occur if a drone crashed during the event, police said.
If the boy is found guilty, he could be sent to prison for up to three years or fined a maximum of 500,000 yen (about $4,137).
THE BOY’S FLYING HISTORY
The boy flew a drone around the Higashi Honganji temple in Kyoto on May 1 and around Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture on May 3. After these incidents, police warned him, saying, “It is dangerous to fly a drone in a place crowded with people.”
However, he was at it again on May 9, operating a drone in the compound of Nagano’s Zenkoji temple. This time the drone dropped near a parade that was under way as part of a Buddhist memorial service. Because of this, the police issued another warning.
But this still failed to deter the teenager. On May 14, he tried to fly a drone around the Parliamentary Museum close to the Diet building in central Tokyo and the following day in Shimizudani Park, also near the Diet building.
Police officers tried to question him about the park incident but he strongly objected, saying, “Did I cause trouble to anyone?”
He streamed the scenes live on a video-sharing website.
On his own website, the boy asks visitors for donations or to purchase goods. Because of that, police suspect that some people could have funded his activities.
A 15-year-old girl, a former classmate, claimed he always wore a white mask when he was a third-year student at junior high school. During breaks, he would remain in his chair and look out of the window or sleep. He gradually stopped turning up at school.
It was the boy’s repeated flying of drones over public areas, his ignoring of warnings, and the possibility of his fleeing that prompted the arrest, police said.
Masaru Wakasa, former head of the public security division of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors’ Office, said that considering the boy had caused a drone to drop to the ground at Zenkoji temple, organizers of Sanja Matsuri festival felt the necessity to prevent a similar occurrence.
“Police arrested him after they had warned him whenever he carried out dangerous acts. Therefore, the procedure has no problems,” Wakasa said.
“Police are apparently thinking that they want to contain his dangerous acts before the acts escalate further or other people imitate his acts one after another and, as a result, some people suffer injuries,” he added.
CHILDLIKE MISCHIEF OR JUVENILE DELINQUENCY?
But Hisashi Sonoda, professor of criminal law at Konan University in Kobe, said there are no laws to restrict the flying of drones in the airspace where the boy operated them. He added that it may have been just a typical mischievous act on the part of a teenager.
“In such a situation, police applied to him the charge of obstructing duties, which can be used widely at their discretion. I feel that the police reacted a little bit excessively,” Sonoda said.
“The arrest is of a boy who is still just 15 years old. It is necessary to give educational guidance to him. But, given his future life, police should have avoided arresting him, which leads him to being labeled a juvenile delinquent,” he added.
Photo: Seized drones, mobile phones and other equipment shown at Asakusa Police Station – Sokichi Kuroda
Source: The Asahi Shinbum