Family of jailed Navy officer to protest Japanese prime minister’s White House visit

The family and supporters of a Navy officer serving a three-year prison sentence in Japan will demonstrate Friday outside the White House during Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit.

A Japanese court convicted Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis of negligent driving in October 2021 after he was involved in a car crash that resulted in the deaths of two people.

In his appeal, Alkonis said he lost consciousness before the crash after suffering from acute mountain sickness following a hiking trip to Mount Fuji. According to reports, the conviction was upheld despite medical testimony indicating he was diagnosed with the illness after the accident.

Japanese prosecutors did not accuse Alkonis of having drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the crash. He is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and doesn’t drink. The crash occurred during the day while his wife and young children were in the car.

In a statement released Wednesday, his supporters said they aren’t asking for any special treatment for the jailed Navy officer. They cite statistics from Japan’s Ministry of Justice that show more than 95% of similarly charged defendants have gotten suspended sentences.

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“He entered a strategic guilty plea because [Department of Defense] lawyers/officials and his Japanese lawyer told him it was the way to stay out of prison, and that a not guilty plea, or defending himself, would result in prison time,” Alkonis’ supporters said.

Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, has taken up his case.

The Navy told the officer his pay and benefits would continue only until his leave expired because of Pentagon accounting rules. He faced losing compensation and his family’s access to any support.

The Defense Department refused to grant an exception that would have continued Alkonis’ pay and benefits, Mr. Lee said.

Mr. Lee introduced an amendment to the 2023 omnibus appropriation that directs the Navy to continue Alkonis’ pay and benefits. It was unanimously adopted by the Senate.

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