Group sues Japanese police over alleged racial profiling

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  • A group of Japanese citizens have filed a civil lawsuit against Japan’s police, alleging racial profiling and discrimination.
  • The case, to be heard in Tokyo District Court, comes as Japan has seen an influx of foreign workers.
  • Syed Zain, a man of Pakistani descent who has lived in Japan for two decades, alleges repeated police stops and searches.

A group of Japanese citizens, including a man of Pakistani descent, launched a civil lawsuit against the country’s police on Monday, accusing the authorities of racial profiling and discrimination and demanding an end to the alleged practice.

The case, to be heard in Tokyo District Court, comes as Japan in recent years has seen an influx of workers from abroad. The number of non-Japanese living in Japan reached a record high last year, at nearly 3 million people.

One of the three plaintiffs, Syed Zain, a 26-year-old Japanese citizen of Pakistani descent, says he has been repeatedly stopped by police, including getting searched in front of his home. He has lived in Japan for two decades, attended Japanese schools and is fluent in the language, he said.

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“They don’t recognize us as a Japanese,” he said of the police. “From the first moment, they think I’m a criminal.”

Plaintiffs

Syed Zain, left, and other plaintiffs of a lawsuit filed in Tokyo District Court stand together in front of the Tokyo District Courthouse on Jan. 29, 2024. A civil lawsuit filed Monday in the Japanese court is demanding an end to what it calls racial profiling by police. (AP Photo/Ayaka McGill)

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The three plaintiffs are demanding 3 million yen ($20,000) each in punitive damages over “unconstitutional and illegal” treatment, plus 300,000 yen ($2,000) per plaintiff in attorney fees.

“Racial profiling is nothing but discrimination on the basis of race, nationality and color,” their claim alleges.

The complaint targets the government as well as the national, Tokyo and Aichi prefectural police departments. There has been no immediate comment by the authorities.

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The plaintiffs claim that getting stopped by police for apparently no reason violates the Japanese constitution, which provides equality under the law and prohibits discrimination on the basis of race. They also say it goes against international treaties Japan has signed.

Motoki Taniguchi, one the lawyers representing the three, said it was difficult for foreigners or Japanese of non-Japanese ancestry to sue the government because of their concerns about being targeted by police.

Hearings in the case are expected to last about a year.

Efforts have been growing lately to increase diversity in Japan, with more businesses tapping women executives, and global companies tending to have more non-Japanese representation, said Daisuke Uchida, professor of business at Keio University.

“What’s started is still just a tiny step,” he said.

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