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SOCIETY > Human Rights

Supreme Court finds police monitoring of Muslims constitutional

  • August 2, 2016
  • , Asahi , p. 29
  • Translation

Amidst the continuing terrorist attacks around the world, police are monitoring Muslims in order to prevent terrorism. Under the circumstances, Japanese and foreign courts have handed down different rulings about police investigative methods for watching Muslims.


The Japanese Supreme Court finds constitutional


On May 31, the Supreme Court ruled that police monitoring of Muslims was “constitutional” by dismissing a final appeal by the plaintiffs.


Muslims in Japan who were monitored by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) filed a lawsuit, asserting that the police monitoring was discrimination against Muslims based on their religion and unconstitutional.” The court rejected the appeal.


In 2010, the MPD’s 114 internal documents about Muslims in Japan were leaked and posted on the Internet. The documents included Muslims’ personal information such as names, photographs, addresses, workplaces, and associates. Personal information was recorded in a resume-type format with police surveillance records. The leakage revealed that the police was conducting surveillance on Muslims under the pretext of preventing terrorism.


Seventeen of the Muslims monitored by the police sued the Tokyo metropolitan government. Both the Tokyo District and High courts ruled that the government’s information control was faulty, ordering the metropolitan government to pay about 90 million yen. The ruling was unacceptable to the Muslims because it found the police “monitoring of Muslims was unavoidable in preventing terrorism, even though such monitoring infringes on their faith.”


The Supreme Court found the police monitoring constitutional; thus, the ruling became final. “Japan’s judiciary disappointed me,” said a man (40) who is originally from Morocco, one of the plaintiffs. “I was scared when I learned about the sarin gas attack against Tokyo subways [in 1995].” The man went on to say, “Have Muslims ever carried out a terrorist attack in Japan? The police monitoring violates human rights.”


Police lost lawsuits in the U.S.


On the contrary, recently in the U.S. where more terrorism information is available than Japan, Muslim plaintiffs have won suits in similar cases.


In 2011, the Associated Press reported that the New York Police Department was monitoring Muslims in the states of New York and New Jersey. Following the report, lawsuits were filed against the police departments in the two states. In October last year, an appellate court sent a case back to the lower court in the New Jersey, a de facto victory for the plaintiffs. In January in New York State, the police department accepted a settlement in which “police investigations based only on religion will be “prohibited.” In 2006 in Germany, the German constitutional court made a ruling that puts the brakes on investigations based on religion.


Differences in understanding of Muslims


Why did the rulings differ between Japan and the U.S.?


“The Snowden case had a largely impact on the U.S.,” said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Director Ben Wisner. After the 9.11 terrorist attacks in 2001, monitoring by authorities drastically increased. In 2013, the whistleblowing by Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee, changed the trend. He revealed that intelligence agencies in the U.S. have secretly gathered personal information over the Internet, which made the public aware that “the state has been secretly monitoring its citizens.”


Some point out differences in understanding of Islam. “The Supreme Court’s ruling exposes its ignorance about Islam,” criticized Masanori Naito, professor, graduate school of global studies, Doshisha University. Muslims account for more than 20% of world population of 7.3 billion. However, as there are comparatively few Muslims in Japan, “people tend to mistakenly regard all Muslims as violent,” said the professor. “Police surveillance produces distrust among Muslims, which has the opposite effect of what was intended.” Naito points out, “Instead, police should try to obtain information from Muslims by understanding them better.”

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