The three plaintiffs–including men of Pakistani, Indian, and American origin–claim that Japanese law enforcement treats anyone who appears visibly foreign as a potential criminal, even if they are permanent residents or naturalized citizens.
A group of Japanese citizens and permanent residents of foreign descent have filed a lawsuit against the country’s police forces, alleging that law enforcement authorities engage in racial profiling and other forms of discrimination.
According to The Associated Press, the case is expected to be heard in a Tokyo district court. In recent years, the number of persons of non-Japanese-origin residing in the country reached a record high, totaling nearly 3 million.
The three plaintiffs include men who were born in India, Pakistan, and the United States of America.
One of the three plaintiffs named in the complaint, 26-year-old Syed Zain, is of Pakistani descent. He says that he has been repeatedly stopped by the police and has been subjected to random searches in front of his own home.
“I think that people in Japan have the image that foreigners who look like foreigners commit crimes,” Zain said.
“I have been cooperating with [the police] because I thought it was important for maintaining public safety, but when it happened not once but more than 10 times, I began to have doubts instead,” he said.
Zain, like the other plaintiffs, has resided in Japan long-term. He told The Associated Press that he has lived in Japan for about 20 years, attending Japanese schools, and is fluent in the language.
“They don’t recognize us as Japanese,” Zain said. “From the first moment, they think I’m a criminal.”
Zain and his two co-plaintiffs are asking for the equivalent of $20,000 each in punitive damages, as well as the equivalent of $2,000 per person in attorney fees.
“Racial profiling is nothing but discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, and color,” the complaint alleges.
The lawsuit, which takes aim at the national government as well as the police forces of Tokyo and Aichi prefectures, asserts that such instances of alleged discrimination violate provisions of the Japanese constitution.
The country’s constitution, adds The Associated Press, provides equality under law and prohibits racially-motivated discrimination.
CNN observes that Japan, a traditionally homogenous country, has attracted attention for its occasionally poor treatment of foreigners—especially those with darker skin.
In many cases, even persons who are considered “hafu,” or half-Japanese, are treated as aliens, even if they are Japanese citizens and have resided in the country for their entire lives.
Another plaintiff, an African-American identified only by his first name, Maurice, said that he has been forced to endure interrogations from police and “regular Japanese people” about his legal status.
Some people, Maurice claimed, went so far as to implicitly accuse him of overstaying his visa, even though he is a legal permanent resident of Japan.
“Even if we lose,” Maurice said, “I want people to understand that this is an everyday occurrence, an everyday thing, and that we have to do something to prevent that for future generations.”