Thursday, May 26, 2005

Amnesty report 2004: Japan mistreated refugees; executed prisoners in secret

After a few days of fairly concerted local activity helping to promote and make placards for a demonstration against the massacres in Uzbekistan, it's back to normal here: drawing attention to the misdeeds of East Asian governments and giving exposure to activism there.

For some reason the criminal behaviour of the Japanese government always riles me most. I suppose that although I hate what the Chinese authorities do I can see why they stamp out dissent. With the Japanese elites it seems so gratuitous: why does the second-richest country in the world insist on treating so many people with such contempt? And why are the people that they treat worst almost always among the most obviously deserving of consideration and aid? -- Korean-Japanese pensioners, Vietnamese refugees, the families of mentally ill prisoners and so on and on.

What triggered my rant is the publication of Amnesty International's report for 2004 (confusingly called the 2005 report). The summary of the part about Japan is here. There's a brief Japan Times article with some of the allegations here.

I intend to cover what the report has to say about other East Asian countries -- much worse in the case of China and North Korea, of course -- in future posts.

For now, though, here are some pieces of the report on Japan:


Two men were executed in 2004 in secret by hanging. At least 61 prisoners remained on death row. Refugee recognition procedures failed to meet international standards. The issue of reparations for forced sexual slavery during World War II remained unresolved.



Japan executed two death row inmates in September. Both executions – by hanging – were carried out in secret. The prisoners were informed only a few hours before the execution and their families and lawyers were told after the executions had taken place. The executions were carried out while parliament was in recess in an attempt to avoid public debate or criticism.

• Mamoru Takuma, who murdered eight schoolchildren in Osaka in 2001, was executed with unusual speed, less than a year after his death sentence had been finalized. He was reported to have a history of mental illness.

Death row inmates were kept in solitary confinement and communication with the outside world was very restricted. At least 25 prisoners whose sentences have been finalized have spent more than 10 years on death row awaiting execution. Ten per cent of death row inmates were reportedly victims of miscarriages of justice.

• In August the Tokyo High Court rejected a request for retrial by Hakamada Iwao, who had spent over 38 years in detention and always protested his innocence.


The crackdown on illegal immigrants was strengthened after the government announced its security policy at the end of 2003. Businesses reportedly employing undocumented migrants were raided. The government also manipulated fear of “terrorism” to facilitate the forcible repatriation of thousands of foreign workers.

This crackdown was followed by an amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law which raised the maximum fine for undocumented migrants and extended the maximum re-entry ban on deported foreigners from 5 to 10 years.

The new law scrapped the requirement that refugees apply for refugee status within 60 days of arrival. However, concerns regarding the detention of asylum-seekers remained. Mentally ill asylum-seekers continued to be detained without appropriate medical care and reports of suicide attempts continued. Some asylum-seekers were detained and thereby separated from their children. Several people were detained for years and were suddenly forcibly repatriated while their appeals were still pending. In 2004, of 426 people who applied for refugee status, only 15 were granted asylum.

• In February, the Tokyo District Court upheld the decision to reject refugee status for a gay Iranian man known as Shayda, despite numerous reports of homosexuals being executed in Iran. Shayda was recognized as a refugee by the UN refugee agency UNHCR in 2001. The Tokyo Court acknowledged that under Iran’s Islamic penal law, those accused of same-sex acts face punishment, including the death penalty. However, the Court stated that Shayda could live in Iran safely as long as he did not “overtly” engage in such activities and that a person could find ways to avoid persecution. Shayda’s application for refugee status was rejected in 2000, and he was then detained for 19 months for overstaying his visa.

• In November, a Vietnamese woman was forcibly repatriated to Viet Nam even though her husband (a refugee) and baby remained in Japan.

In August Japanese officials, assisted by the Turkish police, visited Turkey to investigate the families of those seeking asylum in Japan. Such investigations exposed asylum-seekers and their families to increased danger as information regarding individual applications was given to Turkish authorities.


The issue of reparations for former “comfort women” – women forced into sexual slavery during World War II – remained unresolved. In February, Tokyo’s High Court rejected compensation claims by seven Taiwanese former “comfort women”. The women claimed that they were victims of systematic sexual abuse by the Japanese Imperial Army and suffered discrimination after the war. They had demanded compensation and an official apology from the Japanese government. There were originally nine plaintiffs, but two died during the case.

In May Japan enacted a law against domestic violence providing protection not only to spouses but also to former spouses and children. The law allowed courts to order perpetrators from their homes and to stay away from spouses, former spouses and children.

In the whole report only two good results: "The new law [on immigration] scrapped the requirement that refugees apply for refugee status within 60 days of arrival", plus the law on domestic violence mentioned in the last paragraph. On the other hand, it's good news that so many people are continuing to struggle.

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