America Like Japan Like America?
I have, in the past, joked wryly about how America’s new anti-terror laws are becoming as draconian as the Japanese system can be. But it seems like Japan might be changing in turn to become as oppressive in some ways as America is–as if the two countries are in a race to see who can blunt freedoms and become more of a police state faster.
In the U.S., new laws allow for people to be arrested without charges, held for an indefinite period of time, questioned without access to an attorney, and even tortured (though they’re usually sent overseas for the last). These somewhat resemble Japanese conditions that have existed for some time; in Japan, you can be arrested and held without charges and no access to an attorney for 48 or 72 hours, and then held for another 20 days without formal charges against you. During that time, you can be questioned incessantly, sometimes even denied food or restroom privileges, and stories of people being beaten are widespread. If the police want to keep you for longer, they can “release” and then re-arrest you and then keep you for another 22-23 days. This period is the cause of many of Japan’s famed forced confessions, which sent many innocent Japanese to prison for decades. So when the U.S. started allowing stuff like this, I thought that it was catching up with Japan.
But Japan, it seems, is not to be outdone; it is now taking on some American anti-democratic techniques. For example, in the U.S., many have been arrested for being critical of Bush, Cheney, or the administration in general, often times for something as innocuous as a t-shirt. People have been arrested on parade routes for nothing more than carrying signs that even might be anti-Bush. Cindy Sheehan was dragged out of the State of the Union address recently and arrested for her t-shirt. The charges? Usually something bogus, like disturbing the peace or trespassing. In the U.S., these charges are usually dropped after the evil t-shirt wearer has been deprived of their ability to speak freely, after the damage is done. And these laws are always enforced selectively, only arresting and detaining those who disagree with Bush, while supporters with approving t-shirts and signs occupying the same public space are never “disturbing the peace” or “trespassing.”
So how is this manifesting itself in Japan? Anti-military-deployment protests. Prime Minister Koizumi has sent Japanese soldiers to a war zone for the first time since WWII, a move opposed by 71% of Japanese people, though not protested so much–but what protests there have been have been reacted to aggressively. Koizumi and the conservatives have been extremely sensitive about this, as it represents a tentative new step in violation of article 9 of the Japanese constitution. So when three Japanese civilians were kidnaped in Iraq while doing humanitarian work, they were not hailed as heroes or praised for their sacrifice. Instead, Koizumi and his people viciously attacked them, made them pariahs in Japan for causing the country “shame.” The politicians vilified them, spread rumors about crimes they committed as youths, even sicced the ultra-nationalists on the poor trio as they returned to Japan after their harrowing ordeal–then billed them for air fare and medical expenses.
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Japanese government acts with open hostility to those who protest the Iraq deployment. A group called Tento Mura (named after tent villages that sprang up in anti-military protests in the early 70’s) distributed fliers in early 2004 to a housing complex in Tachikawa where families of Japan SDF (Self-Defense Forces, the Japanese military) personnel live. The fliers urged the SDF members and their families to oppose the SDF deployment to Iraq.
Technically, the protesters were trespassing; while the complex is open and unguarded, there is a sign prohibiting unauthorized access. However, no one pays attention to it. Like all other apartment buildings in Japan, the complex is visited daily by many part-time workers paid to stuff mailboxes with ads for pizza, real estate, and escort services, amongst other things (in Japan, it’s legal for anyone to put things in your mailbox). The protesters as well had visited the complex many times over the years. But when they tried to oppose the Iraq deployment, they were arrested for trespassing. The difference was not the crime committed compared to that committed by others, but in the message they were delivering. People are always annoyed by the pollution of their mailboxes with ads–but the people who deliver the ads at the SDF complex are never arrested for trespassing. (I wish they were in my building!)
But it gets worse: after being arrested, they were then detained for 75 days on the ground that the police “needed more information,” despite the fact that the protesters had confessed to all charges and all information was fully understood. The detention was purely for harassment, driven home by grueling 5-hour interrogation sessions. The police also confiscated the defendants’ computer, searched their homes, and notified their workplaces, where the protesters were suspended and docked pay beyond the time lost while incarcerated. The state aggressively prosecuted the case, demanding six months imprisonment, and when a lower court dismissed the case on the grounds that it was politically motivated, the state spent a great deal of money appealing the case. The Tokyo High Court later reversed the lower court, completely dismissing any consideration of freedom of speech.
Priests have also been arrested for the heinous crime of distributing fliers. One priest was distributing anti-war fliers outside an air base in Okinawa, completely legally. The police stopped him and handcuffed him to their patrol car–and then started to drive off with the priest still handcuffed to the vehicle. When the priest objected, he was arrested for police obstruction and held for 21 days.
And if arresting protesters on bogus charges isn’t Bush-like enough, Japan is going to start photographing and fingerprinting all non-Japanese who visit or live in the country. Want to come over for a visit? Better ink up your index finger first. But the real impact of this is that Koreans living in Japan, Koreans who were born and raised here and are Japanese all except for the ancestry and citizenship (refused on principle, usually as their grandparents were brought here as forced labor), they will be fingerprinted yet again. They used to be fingerprinted before, but fought for decades to have that stopped, and finally, just a few years ago, were successful. The fingerprinting stopped–but not for long, as it seems that Japan’s “anti-terror” movement is now a convenient excuse for the conservatives here to reinstate the fingerprinting, which brands generational Koreans in Japan as outsiders and makes them feel like criminals.
In short, the War on Terror™ is used as a political tool for social regression and oppression not just in the U.S., but in Japan as well.