Foreign-born Residents Launch Lawsuit Against Japan Systematic Racial Profiling by Police

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Three foreign-born residents of Japan have filed a lawsuit against the national and local governments, accusing them of illegal questioning by police based on racial profiling. The lawsuit, which is the first of its kind in Japan, was filed on Monday at the Tokyo District Court.

The plaintiffs are Matthew, a man of Indian descent who has lived in Japan for more than 20 years and holds permanent residency; Syed Zain, a Japanese citizen who was born in Pakistan and moved to Japan as a child; and Maurice, an American who has been in Japan for over a decade. They claim that they have been repeatedly stopped and interrogated by police officers solely because of their appearance and ethnicity, which they say is a violation of their constitutional rights and human dignity.

The lawsuit demands that the national, Tokyo Metropolitan and Aichi Prefecture governments recognize that it is illegal for police officers to stop and question people based on their race, nationality or ethnicity, and that they take measures to prevent such discrimination. The lawsuit also seeks 3 million yen (about $20,250) in damages for each plaintiff.

The lawsuit comes amid a sharp rise in the number of foreign workers coming to Japan to help stem labor shortages as its population ages and declines. It also comes amid a renewed debate over what it means to be and look Japanese, after a Ukrainian-born, naturalized Japanese citizen was crowned Miss Japan last week.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Aichi Prefectural Government and National Police Agency all declined to comment, while representatives of the Ministry of Justice could not be reached. The plaintiffs and their legal team spoke to the media outside the court before filing their case.

Matthew said he had been questioned by police countless times and that he was afraid to go out for fear of being stopped again. “I never knew what social withdrawal was until recently,” he said. “I feel like every time I finish work, I’m hiding in my house.”

Syed Zain said he hoped the case would lead to positive change in a society where the number of Japanese with foreign roots is growing. Maurice said he wanted to raise awareness of the issue among Japanese people and make life easier for others. “I want them (Japanese people) to understand that this is an everyday occurrence, it’s an everyday thing, and that we have to do something to prevent that,” he said

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