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Surveillance of Japan’s Muslims

Junko Hayashi is the lawyer for plaintiffs who challenged police surveillance of Japan's Muslim community [Ian Munroe/Al Jazeera]

Junko Hayashi is the lawyer for plaintiffs who challenged police surveillance of Japan’s Muslim community [Ian Munroe/Al Jazeera]

Y tu Japan?

Edward Snowden commenting on this stated, “People of the Islamic faith are more likely to be targeted … despite not having any criminal activities or associations or anything like that in their background, simply because people are afraid.” Snowden also mentioned that the last terrorist attack in Japan was not by Muslims.

By Ian Munroe, via. AlJazeera English

Tokyo, Japan – Mohamed Fujita used to host religious study groups at his home that were open to all Muslims. But today he’s afraid to invite strangers, in case they’re police informants.

Extensive surveillance has put many people of his faith on edge, he says, sowing mistrust.

A native of Japan who converted to Islam more than two decades ago, Fujita was one of 17 plaintiffs in a lawsuit that challenged blanket monitoring of the country’s followers of Islam. His name has been changed in this story to protect his identity, after police documents labelling him a possible security threat were leaked online.

Fujita’s wife first noticed the couple was being followed by law enforcement in the early 2000s. He says he would go out of his way to cooperate with officers when they would occasionally approach him. But they eventually asked that he report on other members of his mosque and he refused.

Then came the leak in 2010 of 114 police files, which revealed religious profiling of Muslims across Japan. The documents included resumé-like pages listing a host of personal information, including an individual’s name, physical description, personal relationships and the mosque they attended, along with a section titled “suspicions”.

A skyline view of a mosque in Japan’s capital, Tokyo [Ian Munroe/Al Jazeera]

The files also showed by the time the 2008 G8 summit was held in Hokkaido, northern Japan, at least 72,000 residents from Organisation of Islamic Conference countries had been profiled – including about 1,600 public school students in and around Tokyo.

Police in the capital had also been surveilling places of worship, halal restaurants, and “Islam-related” organisations, the documents showed.

Within a few weeks of the leak, the data had been downloaded from a file-sharing website more than 10,000 times in more than 20 countries.

Fujita and the other plaintiffs, many of whom were originally from Middle Eastern or North African countries, sued in the hope the courts would deem the police practices illegal. Their lawyers said police had violated their constitutional rights to privacy, equal treatment, and religious freedom.

After two appeals, the Supreme Court dismissed the case on May 31.

The justices concurred with a lower court that the plaintiffs deserved a total of ¥90 million ($880,000) in compensation because the leak violated their privacy. But they did not weigh in on the police profiling or surveillance practices, which a lower court ruling had upheld as “necessary and inevitable” to guard against the threat of international terrorism.

“We were told we don’t have a constitutional case,” says Junko Hayashi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “We’re still trying to figure out, how is it not constitutional?”

Law enforcement mostly ignored the case. One of the few public statements they made came at a United Nations human rights committee hearing on the matter in 2014. An official from the National Police Agency said “details of information-gathering activities to prevent future terrorism could not be disclosed”, but that “police collected information according to the law”, according to UN records.

Some have defended the surveillance of Muslims, including Naofumi Miyasaka, a professor at the National Defense Academy of Japan. He describes the data leak as “the biggest failure in the history of Japan’s counterterrorism” because it would have hurt the ability of law enforcement to gather intelligence on potential threats through “mutual trust and cooperation between police and informants”.

The Supreme Court decision generated few headlines and little public debate in Japan. Local media outlets had covered the legal proceedings by focusing on the leak of information, tiptoeing around the police surveillance issue.

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  • Friend of Bosnia

    Yes, even the 1970 movie about the attack on Pear harbor “Tora, Tora, Tora”, which claims to be true to historical facts, implies that. fter all, you can see that eth Americans had broken the japanese diplomatic codes, and were reading the dispatches to the Japanese Embassy in Washington as if they were looking the Japanese over their shoulders. They knew all along they’d be attacked, even if they had only approximate kowledge as to when and where. A Geman journalist who was in Japan at that time implied too that teh Americans had provoked the Japanese so much that they saw no face-saving (or economic) altenative that to go to war. And that was published in a book in Germany in 1946 or 1947, that is, under American occupation, and it wasn’t censored.
    As I see it, the situation between the USA and Japan in 1941 was more like that between Imperial Germany and Great Britain in and before 1914.

  • Awesome

    I’m not saying that to imply that “all sides are equally bad” but to make clear that the Americans can hardly claim the higher moral ground – but they were attacked by the Japanese, not the other way round, let’s not forget that.

    From what I have read, the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese was instigated, foreknown about by the American government at the time, and allowed to happen to justify America entering the war since non-interventionism was the policy at the time.

    The moral high ground is just a facade to justify the unjustifiable to people with a moral compass whose support is necessary.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Oh, but it is. History has shown this countless times.
    It is very sad because Japan has such an admirable culture.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    They haven’t. To the outside they did. But war criminals were for most not persecuted nor removed from power. And Shinzo Abe is the grandson of Nobusuke Kishi.

    Ot’s tehg same in Serbia. All those who wieldf power today called teh shots in the time of Milosevic. So it’s no surprose that attitudes have changed little from 1992-95.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    They’re just following fashion like everybody else. Fascist and racist ideas became fashionable among the Japanese more or less at the same time as everywhere else, in the 1930s.

    Islamophobia is a fad, in Japan the same as in other countries.
    Unfortunately a very persistent fad. It exists since around 1190.
    Fascism never quite went away, and currenty it’s experiencing a rebirth. Everywhere in the world.

    Also, Japan has a long hostory of discrimination – the samurai against the merchant, craftsmen and farmer classes; against teh burakumin (formerly known as eta); against Ainu; Koreans and foreigners in general. At least they are courteous to foreigners now. At least tehy had to remove chauvinism and militarism from their political agenda (But I think Japan has a right to defend themselves from aggressive neighbors liek North Korea and the Peoples’ Republic of China. True, in the past Japan was the aggressor against Korea and China but that does not give them the right to take revenge on Japan now.

    (In the case of BiH that’s different. Serbia started the wars in Croatia and Bosnia “to take revenge for WWII”; that’s as unfair a reason as there is, and the territorial and border changes that resulted from these wars must be undone. Croatia was allowed to do this, the Bosniaks were not, on grounds of their being Muslims, clearly. I have to say this every time because there is so much disinformation on the Bosnian War today.)

  • Friend of Bosnia

    As a keen follower of Japanese history I know the Japanese treated the Russian POWs humanely in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and the German POWs and civilians captured in WW I (but they were always beasstly to Chinese). But during the 1930s fascist and racist ideas became fashionable in Japan too. When the Japanese were beastly to American POWs (and let’s not forget, some camp commanders and guards behaved kindly to teh prisoners; there were no standing orders on how to treat POWs) then that was due not to following samurai ideals but rather to aping fascist ideals imported from abroad. More from Mussolini’s Italy than from Nazi Germany, but as it was it was bad enough.
    Too bad the Americans at the same time had a trait of fascism and racism too that manifested itself in segregation of civil life and the armed forces; anti-semitism in the officer corps; the rounding-up and putting in concentration camps of Japanese Americans and to a lesser extent German and Italian Americans; I’m not saying that to imply that “all sides are equally bad” but to make clear that the Americans can hardly claim the higher moral ground – but they were attacked by the Japanese, not the other way round, let’s not forget that.

  • Awesome

    I’d never have expected the Japanese government to be that base.
    Unfortunately here they show that they haven’t learned anything from

    The Japanese government probably doesn’t understand that they don’t have to import something just because it is “American”.

  • Awesome

    Not a century and a half ago they were persecuting Christians and Buddhists based on their religion. So it doesn’t really surprise me.

    I would think that a lot has changed since then, especially in the aftermath of WW II.

  • Awesome

    They aren’t strangers to xenophobia. I’m just surprised that it would extend to Japanese people as well because of their religion.

  • CowabungaCreeper

    It’s not like the Japanese are any strangers to xenophobia.

  • Friend of Bosnia


  • Awesome

    This is surprising. I thought Japan had more sense than that. “International terrorism” (privateer-sponsored criminal attacks) is all about geopolitics and profiteering, and not about Islam or Muslims.

  • mindy1

    Sad, never knew paranoia was so contagious

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