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Japan ignored Mike Lee’s deadline to return imprisoned Navy officer. Now what?

Lee’s personal account was suspended for about 2 hours following the tweets; Elon Musk says account was incorrectly flagged

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A screenshot of Sen. Mike Lee’s personal Twitter account.

One of Sen. Mike Lee’s Twitter accounts was suspended Wednesday, March 1, 2023. The Utah Republican’s language on his personal Twitter account toward Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishidia for not returning Lt. Ridge Alkonis may have led to @BasedMikeLee being suspended from the platform Wednesday morning. It has since been reactivated.

Twitter

Sen. Mike Lee intends to call for the U.S. to renegotiate its military agreement with Japan because the Far East nation ignored his one-man deadline to release an imprisoned Navy officer.

And the Utah Republican’s language on his personal Twitter account toward Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishidia for not returning Lt. Ridge Alkonis caused speculation that it might have led to @BasedMikeLee being briefly suspended from the platform Wednesday morning.

“.@kishida230, you’ve made your choice. I hope you’re ready for some conversations on the Senate floor that you’re not likely to enjoy. This issue isn’t going away, and neither am I,” Lee tweeted early Wednesday morning.

Lee also tweeted “.@kishida230, 自業自得,” which translated means what goes around comes around.

Also, just before his midnight deadline, Lee tweeted, “.@kishida230, you have 40 minutes left. Hand Lt. Ridge Alkonis over to the U.S. Navy. Now.”

The senator’s office did not immediately respond to questions about Twitter suspending Lee’s personal account.

“My personal Twitter account – @BasedMikeLee – has been suspended. Twitter did not alert me ahead of time, nor have they yet offered an explanation for the suspension. My team and I are seeking answers,” Lee tweeted on his Senate account, @SenMikeLee.

Lee’s personal account came back up about two hours after Twitter suspended it. It reappeared without the thousands of followers it had when it was taken down, but the number was climbing.

“Thanks to all who assisted in operation #Free@basedMikeLee. Still no explanation from @Twitter as to what happened,” the senator tweeted.

Lee followed that tweet with another thanking Twitter owner Elon Musk.

Musk tweeted that Lee’s account was incorrectly flagged.

“His personal account (@BasedMikeLee) was incorrectly flagged as impersonation, which is not totally crazy, since it is based,” Musk said.

Lee launched the personal account late last July, with an attack on the FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and spar with his challenger in the U.S Senate race.

It’s not unusual for politicians to have more than one Twitter or Facebook account, including personal and campaign accounts. Lee also maintains an account on Parler, a conservative alternative to Twitter he joined in 2019.

Last month, Lee demanded via Twitter that Kishida transfer Alkonis to U.S. custody to serve his sentence no later than midnight Feb. 28. The senator vowed to have a public discussion about the U.S.-Japan Status of Armed Forces Agreement if Japan did not hand over Alkonis.

“Japan failed to transfer Lt. Ridge Alkonis to U.S. custody in time,” according to a press release from Lee’s office.

In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Lee sought the renegotiation of the 63-year-old armed forces agreement, while saying Japan has a “draconian” justice system that mistreats U.S. military service members.

“I’m certain that there are many who wished that I weren’t giving this speech. I’ve been told it just isn’t worth risking the relationship we have this strategic partner over a single American. Mr. President, they’re wrong,” he said.

Lee said he secured a promise for Alkonis’ transfer to U.S. custody from Japan’s foreign minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, in a meeting in Japan last August. He said a “junior” member of the Japanese embassy staff in Washington later contacted his office to say there was no agreement.

“Foreign Minister Hayashi, you did make the commitment to me. I have not forgotten it, and I know you haven’t either,” Lee said.

Lee said Alkonis is unjustly incarcerated. He said prison transfers like the one he’s requesting are routine, and he and the Alkonis family have waited long enough.

“We’re done waiting,” the senator said.

Ridge and Brittany Alkonis.

Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis, and his wife, Brittany, are pictured in this family photo. Lt. Alkonis remains imprisoned in Japan.

Alkonis family photo

Alkonis was convicted of negligent driving in the deaths of an 85-year-old Japanese woman and her 54-year-old son-in-law on May 29, 2021, while the Alkonis family was driving down Mount Fuji after a day trip.

A Japanese judge determined Alkonis had fallen asleep at the wheel and lost control of his vehicle, which plowed into pedestrians and parked cars in a restaurant parking lot two hours from Yokosuka Naval Base, where he was serving as an anti-submarine warfare officer.

But U.S. Navy investigators determined that Alkonis suffered from acute mountain sickness and lost consciousness. His wife and children said that he was not sleepy and appeared to black out. They said that once he passed out, he was unresponsive to their screams and one daughter’s kicks. He remained unconscious even during the crash itself.

Alkonis started serving a three-year prison sentence in July.

One of Sen. Mike Lee’s Twitter accounts was suspended Wednesday, March 1, 2023.

One of Sen. Mike Lee’s Twitter accounts was suspended Wednesday, March 1, 2023. The Utah Republican’s language on his personal Twitter account toward Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishidia for not returning Lt. Ridge Alkonis may have led to @BasedMikeLee being suspended from the platform Wednesday morning.

Twitter

Kishida met with President Joe Biden at the White House in January to discuss North Korea, Ukraine and China’s tensions with Taiwan.

Biden told Kishida that the U.S. was “fully, thoroughly, completely” committed to Japan’s defense and praised Tokyo’s security buildup, saying the nations had never been closer, according to Reuters. In a joint statement, the two leaders reaffirmed that the alliance remains the cornerstone of peace, security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. 

The U.S. has about 55,000 troops stationed in Japan at more than half a dozen bases and other facilities.

Alkonis’ wife, Brittany Alkonis, had a brief discussion with Biden on the U.S. House floor after his State of the Union address last month.

“I promise you, we’re not giving up, OK?” the president told Brittany Alkonis on Feb. 8.

“My kids are counting on you,” she replied in a video that captured the interaction.

Brittany Alkonis, the couple’s three young children and other family members have demonstrated outside the White House to get Biden’s attention.

In delivering his ultimatum to Kishida last month, Lee said it’s time for a candid discussion about “what you did” to Alkonis and his family and time to heal “this senseless wound.” He said he is grateful for the relationship the U.S. and Japan has enjoyed, and asked the prime minister to not “weaken it as you have” by imprisoning Alkonis.

Sen. Mike Lee speaks to a crowd of supporters at an election party at the Hyatt Regency in Salt Lake City on Nov. 8, 2022.

Sen. Mike Lee speaks to a crowd of supporters at an election party at the Hyatt Regency in Salt Lake on Nov. 8, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News