The MOJ Human Rights Bureau made its existing hotline for human rights inquiries available in six different languages – English, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Portuguese, and Vietnamese – starting in April. In May the MOJ reported that in 2016, its human rights division received 274 inquiries related to potential religious freedom violations (compared with 300 in 2015). It confirmed 32 cases (compared with 51 in 2015) as highly likely to be religious freedom violations, out of 20,705 suspected human rights violations, and assisted potential victims in 11 cases (compared with 27 in 2015), by mediating between the parties, calling on human rights violators to rectify their behavior, or referring the complainants to competent authorities for legal advice. These MOJ measures, however, were not legally binding.
According to the ACA, approximately 182,000 religious groups had been certified as religious groups with corporate status by the central and prefectural governments as of February. The large number reflected local units of religious groups registering separately. The government certified corporate status for religious groups when they met the requirements, according to the Japanese Association of Religious Organizations (JAORO), an interfaith NGO of Kyoha Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity, Shrine Shinto, and new religions groups.
A civil organization reported on information it obtained that suggested the government placed Muslims under surveillance.
In May the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) published a case stating that, in 2014, Tochigi Prison officials confiscated a prayer scarf from a Bangladeshi female Muslim inmate, offered inadequate alternative clothing, and failed to properly serve her food during Ramadan. According to the JFBA, the prison officials responded that they legally seized her scarf to prevent it from being used for suicide or escape; presented alternative clothing with consideration for her religious faith; and would have served a meal of equivalent nutritional value to three meals in one sitting had the inmate not informed the prison on the first day of Ramadan that she would not be observing it.
The independent inspection committees for penal facilities said a chief warden at one prison did not allow mainly death row convicts to access chaplain services. The warden responded that decisions about inmates’ access to religious services were made based on limited available resources.
According to the MOJ, penal institutions continued to give inmates access to 8,707 religious groups, and there were 5,822 individual religious observances and/or counseling sessions by civil volunteer chaplains in 2015. There were an estimated 1,864 volunteer chaplains from Shinto, Buddhist, Christian, and other religious groups available to prisoners as of January 2017, according to the National League of Chaplains, a public interest incorporated foundation that trains chaplains.
The MOJ stated it consistently instructed detention facilities to consider detainees’ religions in providing food and access to clergy and places to worship in a timely manner.
An NGO and press reported the Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau served meals containing pork twice respectively to Sudanese and Egyptian Muslims.
According to a MOJ press release, the ministry granted refugee status, based on the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol, to at least one applicant who had a well-founded fear of being persecuted for religious reasons. Twenty-eight applicants were granted refugee status in 2016.
The government continued to grant special status to Chinese nationals self-identifying as Falun Gong practitioners, allowing them to remain in the country, while also allowing overseas artists, many of who were Falun Gong devotees, to enter the country in conjunction with performances. Municipalities permitted the artists to give performances in their halls.
The government continued to grant special permits to stay on humanitarian grounds or temporary stay visas for many of the approximately 300 Rohingya Muslims who came to the country on the basis of ethnic and religious persecution in Burma. Most of these individuals had resided in the country for more than five years, and some for more than 15 years. In prior years, the government granted refugee status to 18 Rohingya Muslims. Others still remained undocumented and were not associated with any formal resettlement program. Their temporary visas required frequent renewal by regional immigration offices. While temporary status carries some legal risk of deportation, no Rohingya Muslims from Burma were deported during the year. Representatives of the Rohingya population said the government was reluctant to grant refugee status to Rohingya who feared religious persecution in Burma. The MOJ said it equally applied its criteria for granting refugee status to Rohingya Muslims as it did to any other applicant.