Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.
The government continued to deny death row inmates advance information about the date of execution until that day. The government notified their family members of executions after the fact. The government held that this policy spared prisoners the anguish of knowing when they were going to die.
Authorities also regularly hold prisoners condemned to death in solitary confinement until their execution but allowed visits by family, lawyers, and others. The length of such solitary confinement varied from case to case and may extend for several years. Prisoners accused of crimes that could lead to the death penalty were also held in solitary confinement before trial, according to a nongovernmental organization (NGO) source.
Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.
Prison conditions generally met international standards, although some prisons continued to lack adequate medical care and sufficient heating in the winter or cooling in the summer.
Long-term detention of foreign nationals at immigration centers continued to be a concern. More than 40 percent of the more than 1,000 foreign nationals held in immigration facilities have been detained for more than six months, some as long as seven years, giving rise to an increasing number of protests, including hunger strikes, among detainees. Some facilities imposed forceful control of detainees, including women, and failed to protect detainees’ privacy.
Prisoners and detainees generally have no access to telephones, including to communicate with attorneys or family members.
According to experts, some facilities allowed the provisional release of certain detainees in response to concerns about COVID-19. NGOs noted, however, that released individuals were not granted work permits or health insurance. Legal experts reported that some prisoners expressed concern about the lack of information on the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts also raised concerns about inadequate measures to ensure social distancing among detainees at immigration facilities. The Ministry of Justice announced it implemented guidelines to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in prisons and immigration detention centers.
Physical Conditions: Authorities held women separately from men, and juveniles younger than age 20 separately from adults in prisons, other correctional facilities, and immigration facilities.
From April 2018 through March 2019, third-party inspection committees of prisons and immigration detention centers documented inadequate medical care as a major concern. Inspection committees also raised other issues: the need to give prison officers additional human rights education; some unmet special needs for elderly, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) inmates, or those with disabilities; and insufficient heating and cooling supplies. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2019 there were 290 doctors working at correctional institutions, approximately 90 percent of the required staffing level. Inspection committees also noted concerns about protecting detainees’ privacy.
Administration: Most authorities permitted prisoners and immigration detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities and to request investigation of alleged problematic conditions. The president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, however, raised concerns in an August statement that authorities controlled the complaint and inspection process at immigration detention centers. Complainants were required to notify detention officers about complaints. Detention officers were also responsible for scheduling on-site inspections by the inspection committees and determining the length of time for the committees to interview detainees. Authorities provided the results of such investigations to prisoners in a letter offering little detail beyond a final determination.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed prescheduled visits by elected officials, NGOs, members of the press, and international organizations. By law the Justice Ministry appointed members to inspection committees for government-run prisons and immigration detention centers from outside of the national government. The police supervisory authorities, prefectural public safety commissions, appointed members of inspection committees for police detention facilities from outside of the police force. Authorities accepted some recommendations by NGOs in selecting inspection committee members. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations president, however, voiced concern that undisclosed selection criteria and the members themselves impeded nongovernment experts’ ability to evaluate if the selected members were appropriately qualified. Authorities permitted the committees, which include physicians, lawyers, local municipal officials, local citizens, and experts, to interview detainees without the presence of prison officers. Their recommendations generally received serious consideration.
NGOs and the UN Committee against Torture continued to raise concerns about the inspection process. For instance, they cited concerns about the requirement to submit previsit notifications to facility authorities. They also raised concerns about a lack of transparency in the selection of committee members.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Police officers may stop and question any person who is suspected to have committed or is about to commit a crime, or to possess information on a crime. Civil society organizations continued to urge police to end ethnic profiling and unjustified surveillance of foreigners.
In May police officers of the Shibuya Ward Police Station in Tokyo questioned a Kurdish man with alleged use of force on a street in Shibuya. The man filed a criminal charge with the Tokyo District Court against two Shibuya police station officers for the injury caused by their alleged assault. The Kurdish man also posted online a video clip showing him being questioned by police, which was filmed by another person who was present. The clip contributed to a protest by some 500 persons against national origin and racial discrimination by Shibuya police in early June. In late June, the Kurdish man filed a civil suit with the Tokyo District Court seeking government compensation from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department for mental suffering caused by the violent police questioning.
Authorities apprehended persons openly with warrants based on evidence and issued by a duly authorized official and brought detainees before an independent judiciary. In urgent cases when there is sufficient basis to suspect that suspects committed specific crimes, including a crime punishable by death, the law allows police to arrest the suspects without obtaining warrants beforehand and requires police to seek to obtain warrants immediately after arrest.
The law allows suspects, their families, or representatives to request that the court release an indicted detainee on bail. Bail is not available prior to indictment. NGOs and legal experts stated bail was very difficult to obtain without a confession. Authorities tended to restrict access to defense counsel for detainees who did not confess. Other elements of the arrest and pretrial detention practices (see below) also tended to encourage confessions. The Public Prosecutors Office reported that in 2019 approximately 67 percent of all criminal suspects who were referred to prosecutors by police did not face indictment. Prosecutors indicted the remaining approximately 33 percent were convicted. The Justice Ministry reported in January that prosecutors indicted suspects only when convictions were highly likely. In most of these cases, the suspects had confessed.
Suspects in pretrial detention are legally required to face interrogation. Police guidelines limit interrogations to a maximum of eight hours a day and prohibit overnight interrogations. Pre-indictment detainees have access to counsel, including at least one consultation with a court-appointed attorney, if required; counsel, however, is not allowed to be present during interrogations.
The law allows police to prohibit suspects from meeting with persons other than counsel (and a consular officer in the case of foreign detainees) if there is probable cause to believe that the suspect may flee or conceal or destroy evidence (see “Pretrial Detention” below). Many suspects, including most charged with drug offenses, were subject to this restriction before indictment, although some were permitted visits from family members in the presence of a detention officer. There is no legal connection between the type of offense and the length of time authorities may deny a suspect visits by family or others. Those held for organized crime or on charges involving other criminals, however, tended to be denied such visits because prosecutors worried that communications with family or others could interfere with investigations.
Police and prosecutors must record the entire interrogation process in cases involving crimes punishable by death or imprisonment for an indefinite period, or punishable by imprisonment for one year or more and in which a victim has died because of an intentional criminal act, or that follow investigations and arrests begun by prosecutors. In such cases, a suspect’s statements to police and prosecutors during an interrogation are in principle inadmissible without a recording. According to legal experts, this is intended to prevent forced confessions and false charges. Police are also required to make best efforts to record the interrogation process when suspects have a mental disability. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations acknowledged the positive effects of these recording practices but noted that interrogations are video recorded in only 3 percent of the country’s criminal cases. Legal experts therefore continued to express concerns about forced confessions, especially in cases involving white-collar crimes.
Pretrial Detention: Authorities routinely held suspects in police-operated detention centers for an initial 72 hours prior to indictment although, by law, such detention is allowed only when there is probable cause to suspect that a person has committed a crime and is likely to conceal or destroy evidence or flee. After interviewing a suspect at the end of the initial 72-hour period, a judge may extend pre-indictment custody for up to two consecutive 10-day periods. Prosecutors routinely sought and received such extensions. Prosecutors may also apply for an additional five-day extension in exceptional cases, such as insurrection, foreign aggression, or violent public assembly.
NGOs and legal experts reported the practice of detaining suspects in pre-indictment detention or daiyou kangoku (substitute prison) continued. Because judges customarily granted prosecutors’ requests for extensions, pre-indictment detention usually lasts for 23 days for nearly all suspects, including foreigners. Moreover, the 23-day detention period may be applied on a per charge basis, so individuals facing multiple charges may be held far longer. NGOs and foreign observers continued to report that for persons in daiyou kangoku, access to persons other than their attorneys was routinely denied.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty, but NGOs and lawyers continued to suggest that this was not the case because of the pressure on suspects to confess prior to trial. Foreign suspects with time-limited visas often confessed in exchange for a suspended sentence in order to close the case before their visas, which are not extended for trial, expire.
Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them. Each charged individual has the right to a trial without undue delay (although observers noted that trials could be delayed indefinitely for mentally ill prisoners); to access to defense counsel, including an attorney provided at public expense if indigent; and to cross-examine witnesses. There is a lay judge (jury) system for serious criminal cases. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves. Authorities provided free interpretation services to foreign defendants in criminal cases. Foreign defendants in civil cases must pay for interpretation, although a judge may order the plaintiff to pay the charges in accordance with a court’s final decision.
Defendants have the right to appoint their own counsel to prepare a defense, present evidence, and appeal. The court may assist defendants in finding an attorney through a bar association. Defendants may request a court-appointed attorney at state expense if they are unable to afford one.
Trial procedures favor the prosecution. Observers said a prohibition against defense counsel’s use of electronic recording devices during interviews with clients undermined counsel effectiveness. The law also does not require full disclosure by prosecutors unless the defending attorney satisfies difficult disclosure procedure conditions, which could lead to the suppression of material favorable to the defense.
Several defense counsel and defendants called on judges to allow them to take off face masks or use an alternative COVID-19 preventive measure in trials, arguing that facial expressions affect how judges assess testimony and that covering faces could cause prejudice. They also expressed concern that face coverings could make it psychologically easier for hostile witnesses to give intentionally baseless testimony against defendants. In June a chief judge at the Tokyo Regional Court allowed a defendant to testify with a transparent face shield in lieu of a mask at the request of the defense counsel.
NGOs expressed concern about the retrial process for inmates on death row because execution is not stayed for a pending petition of retrial, which the Japan Federation of Bar Associations said calls into question the validity of executions.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. There are both administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs. Individuals may file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation with domestic courts.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these freedoms. The independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to sustain freedom of expression.
Freedom of Speech: There is a hate speech law designed to eliminate hate speech against persons originating from outside the country by developing government consultation systems and promoting government awareness efforts. The law, however, neither penalizes nor prohibits hate speech, so as not to impede freedom of speech. Legal experts acknowledged a continued decrease in hate speech at demonstrations since the law came into effect. In contrast hate speech increased in propaganda, election campaigning, and online, while crimes targeting members of specific ethnicities also continued, according to experts. They called on the government to implement more effective deterrent measures and conduct a survey on hate speech incidents. The government has not conducted such a survey since 2016.
According to legal experts, hate speech and hate crimes against ethnic Koreans, especially against Korean women and students, were numerous, but there were also incidents directed at other racial and ethnic minorities. Legal experts pointed out that hate speech against Chinese and Ainu also increased after the COVID-19 outbreak and the opening of the government-run National Ainu Museum in July, respectively.
As of October, three local governments had ordinances to prevent hate speech–Osaka City, Tokyo Metropolitan, and Kawasaki City. In January a public center for exchange programs with foreign nationals run by the city of Kawasaki received letters threatening the genocide of ethnic Koreans in Japan. This came after the city government became the first municipality to pass an ordinance with a penalty (a fine) for repeat offenders of hate speech in public places. In July, Kawasaki authorities arrested a suspect for violating the ordinance. Moreover, the Kawasaki city government requested in October that Twitter delete two messages the city identified as hate speech against an ethnic Korean woman. This was the first such request the city submitted to a social media company since the ordinance went into effect.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
While no such cases have ever been pursued, the law enables the government to prosecute those who publish or disclose government information that is a specially designated secret. Those convicted face up to five years’ imprisonment with work and a substantial fine.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Domestic and international observers continued to express concerns that the system of kisha (reporter) clubs attached to government agencies may encourage censorship. These clubs are established in a variety of organizations, including ministries, and may block nonmembers, including freelance and foreign reporters, from covering the organization.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal as well as civil offense. The law does not accept the truthfulness of a statement in itself as a defense. There is no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion during the year.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. In March the Ministry of Justice reported that the number of human rights violations via the internet increased by 3.9 percent in 2019.
There were no reported incidents of governmental restriction of academic freedom or cultural events.
Using updated education guidelines, the Ministry of Education continues to screen and approve textbooks. As has been the case in the past, the approval process for history textbooks, particularly its treatment of the country’s 20th century colonial and military history, continued to be a subject of controversy.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except for travel restrictions implemented by the government from and to the country as COVID-19 infection prevention measures.
In-country Movement: In an effort to prevent COVID-19 infections, the government requested individuals refrain from interprefectural travel for certain periods during the year, but such requests did not carry the force of law.
Foreign Travel: The government’s COVID-19 infection prevention measures restricted entry to the country by all foreign nationals, including re-entry by residents, from April to September 1. Citizens were not subject to foreign travel restrictions.
The government generally provided adequate shelter and other protective services in the aftermath of natural disasters in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. As of January, 709 persons were living in temporary housing as a result of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant disaster in the northeastern part of the country.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection for and assistance to refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs and civil society groups expressed concern about the indefinite detention of refugees and asylum-seekers and conditions in detention facilities. Legal experts and UNHCR noted that lengthy detention led to detainee protests, including by hunger strikes, generally intended to create a health concern that would warrant medical release. According a March report by the Immigration Services Agency, authorities temporarily released some detainees from immigration facilities when they refused to eat and refused medical intervention. Legal experts reported that as of September, 198 detainees engaged in hunger strikes in immigration facilities around the nation to protest their detention.
In August the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Working Group) concluded that the government’s detention of an Iranian and a Kurdish applicant for refugee status for a cumulative total of nearly five years–until April and June–was “arbitrary.” Although the government argued the detention was in accordance with domestic law, the Working Group maintained the detentions lacked necessity and reasonable grounds.
In June an expert panel appointed by the justice minister to address lengthy detentions and poor conditions in immigration facilities submitted recommendations that took into account recommendations from the UN Working Group and Japan Federation of Bar Associations. Persons under deportation order had the right to refuse deportation and most did, often because of fear of returning home or because they had family in the country. According to Justice Ministry statistics released in June, in 2019 a substantial majority of those under deportation orders refused deportation. Of those who refused deportation, 60 percent in 2019 were in the process of applying for refugee status. By law the government may not deport those who are subject to deportation orders while their refugee applications are pending.
In October the president of the Federation of Bar Associations urged the government to respond seriously to the Working Group’s conclusions and amend the immigration law accordingly. The same month, however, the justice minister commented publicly that the prolonged detention issue would end if those who were subject to deportation orders accepted deportation.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The country’s refugee screening process was, however, strict; in 2019 the government granted 44 applicants refugee status out of 10,375 applications and appeals (vice 42 out of 10,493 in 2018). NGOs and UNHCR expressed concern about the low rate of approval. Civil society and legal groups expressed concern about the restrictive screening procedures that led applicants to voluntarily withdraw their applications and accept deportation, specifically claiming that the government’s interpretation of “fear of persecution” used when adjudicating refugee claims was overly restrictive. Civil society groups reported that it takes an average of three years for an applicant to be recognized as a refugee, and some cases involving multiple appeals have lasted 10 years.
Immigration authorities administered the first round of hearings on whether to grant refugee status. Refugee and asylum applicants were not allowed to have lawyers participate in the first round of hearings, except for applicants in vulnerable positions, including minors age 15 or younger who have no guardians and applicants with disabilities, who may ask for approval for lawyers to participate in their first round of hearings. Yet legal experts reported there had been only one case where the government allowed the participation of a lawyer in the first hearing.
Immigration authorities also conducted hearings to review complaints from applicants about problems with the process.
A panel, the Refugee Examination Counselors, appointed by the justice minister from outside (by law) the ministry, conducted second hearings to review appeals from persons denied refugee status at their first hearing. All persons appearing before the counselors had the right to an attorney. The counselors included university professors, former prosecutors, lawyers, former diplomats, and NGO representatives, according to the Justice Ministry. The minister is obliged to hear, but not to accept, the opinions of the counselors. Legal experts questioned whether the review system delivered fair judgements, citing Justice Ministry statistics showing it granted refugee status to only one of the 8,291 applicants who filed appeals in 2019.
As government-funded legal support was not available for most refugee and asylum-seekers requesting it, the Federation of Bar Associations continued to fund a program that provided free legal assistance to applicants who could not afford it.
While refugee applicants arriving in the country illegally or without a visa allowing for residency are subject to detention, applicants for refugee status increasingly had valid visas before they submitted their asylum applications. The Justice Ministry announced that in 2019, approximately 97 percent (10,073 of the 10,375 applicants) had legitimate visas, including as temporary visitors or temporary workers.
In 2019 the government granted humanitarian-based permission to stay to 37 applicants who were not given refugee status, including to some applicants who were not legally in the country. The remaining applicants were potentially subject to deportation but could re-apply for refugee status. According to the Justice Ministry, in 2019 there were 8,967 voluntary repatriations and 516 involuntary deportations. As of December 2019, 2,217 persons subject to deportation orders were allowed to live outside of immigration facilities; 942 persons under deportation orders were held in immigration detention facilities. There is no legal limit to the potential length of detention. In response to COVID-19, more detainees were permitted to stay outside the facilities to prevent the spread of infections, the justice minister stated.
In addition to the regular asylum application system, the government may accept refugees under a third-country refugee resettlement program. In April the government increased the cap on refugees accepted under this program from 30 to 60, which NGOs applauded, while continuing to voice concern about the low overall numbers of refugees accepted. COVID-19 related concerns delayed implementing the increase. Approximately 300 Rohingya Muslims were also living in the country under special stay permits on humanitarian grounds or temporary stay visas on the basis of ethnic and religious persecution in Burma. Fewer than 20 Rohingya have been granted refugee status; approximately the same number of Rohingya asylum-seekers are out of detention centers on temporary release but are not permitted to work and could be redetained.
The Ministry of Justice, the Federation of Bar Associations, and the NGO Forum for Refugees Japan continued to cooperate to implement the Alternatives to Detention project to provide accommodations, advice on living in the country, and legal services for individuals who arrived at Narita, Haneda, Chubu, and Kansai airports; received temporary landing or provisional stay permission; and sought refugee status. Government-subsidized civil organizations and donations fund the project. NGOs expressed concern about a lack of government statistics on the number of refugee applicants arriving at air and seaports since July 2018.
Freedom of Movement: Asylum applicants granted a residency permit may settle anywhere and travel in the country freely with conditions, including reporting their residence to authorities. Asylum-seekers in detention and under deportation orders may be granted provisional release from detention for illness, if the applicant was a trafficking victim, or in other circumstances as determined on an ad hoc basis by the Ministry of Justice. Provisional release does not provide a work permit and has several restrictions, including an obligation to appear monthly at the Immigration Bureau, report in advance any travel outside the prefecture in which she or he resides, and report any change of residence to the Immigration Office. The system of provisional release also requires a deposit that may amount to three million yen ($28,000) depending on the individual case. Arefugee or asylum-seekerwho does not follow the conditions may be returned to detention and the deposit is subject to confiscation. Lawyers noted that in recent cases those found working illegally were punished with a minimum of three years’ detention.
Persons granted refugee status may travel freely within the country, as well as abroad, contingent upon meeting certain requirements.
Employment: Applicants who have a valid visa at the time of their asylum application and whom authorities have determined may be recognized as refugees may apply for work permits within two months of, or eight months after, the date they were determined to qualify potentially as refugees. An individual must apply for permission to engage in income-earning activities before the visas expire. Individuals must have a work permit in order to work. In the interim before approval, the Refugee Assistance Headquarters, a section of the government-funded Foundation for the Welfare and Education of the Asian People, provided small stipends to some applicants who faced financial difficulties.
Persons granted refugee status have full employment rights.
Access to Basic Services: Excepting those who met right-to-work conditions, applicants for refugee status received limited social welfare benefits, not including health care. This status rendered them dependent on overcrowded government-funded shelters, illegal employment, government financial support, or NGO assistance.
Persons granted refugee status faced the same discrimination patterns often seen by other foreigners: reduced access to housing, education, and employment.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to 37 individuals in 2019 who may not qualify as refugees. Of the 37, 27 were married to Japanese citizens or their children were citizens. The remaining 10 were granted permission to stay on the basis of situations in their home countries, including seven individuals from Syria. They may live and work in the community.
By law a stateless person age 20 or older is qualified for naturalization when she or he has met certain criteria, including having lived in the country for at least five consecutive years, good conduct, and financial stability.
In January the Tokyo High Court ruled a deportation order for a stateless man who had been denied refugee status was invalid, adding, “it was obvious that the man would have had nowhere to go on this earth.” Further, the court acknowledged that he would not be able to build a life in his home country, Georgia, and declared the order was “defective.”
Japan-born children of ethnic Koreans who had their Japanese citizenship revoked following the end of Japanese colonial rule in Korea at the end of World War II are deemed foreign nationals. They do not have suffrage rights and may not hold positions in government service. Those who did not pledge allegiance to either South or North Korea following the division of the Korean Peninsula fall under the special category of “citizens of the Korean Peninsula (Korea or Chosen).” These Koreans, regarded as de facto stateless by legal experts, may opt to claim South Korean citizenship or to pursue Japanese citizenship. Although they hold no passports, these ethnic Koreans may travel overseas with temporary travel documents issued by the government.
Children born to Rohingya living in the country remain effectively stateless.