December 18, 2015
As a Japanese lawyer studying in the United States, I came across CCR’s case Hassan v. City of New York, a lawsuit challenging the blanket surveillance and religious profiling of Muslim communities in New Jersey. The case – and the principles it upholds – seems particularly important now, as I watch political candidates use anti-Muslim rhetoric and call for discriminatory measures against Muslims. I learned of the case while doing research for my own litigation in Japan challenging a more severe and nationwide version of the program, one that monitors virtually every Muslim person in the country. The case is now pending before the Japanese Supreme Court. I call it the Japanese Hassan.
The Muslim surveillance program in Japan first came to light in 2010 after a leak of internal police files. The documents showed that the Japanese government was monitoring almost every aspect of Muslims’ lives in Japan. Police agents were stationed undercover in mosques all over the country, and the surveillance program extended to almost every other center of Muslim life, from halal shops to what the police bizarrely deemed “Islam-related” organizations that included Doctors Without Borders, UNESCO, and other prominent NGOs.
The leaked documents also revealed that police departments had conducted this blanket surveillance of Muslim individuals solely on the basis of their religion and national origin. Others showed that the Japanese government was also working closely with the FBI. As you would expect, the spying resulted in zero leads to terrorism-related activities, much like the NYPD program that the Associated Press exposed in 2012.
A few months after the revelations, we sued the Japanese and Tokyo metropolitan governments on behalf of a diverse group of Muslims residing in Japan. Our case challenged the legality of suspicionless surveillance and religious profiling, and argued that these practices violate the rights enshrined in our constitution, including the right to privacy, equal protection under the law, and freedom of religion.
In January 2014, the Tokyo District Court issued a decision rubber-stamping the blanket surveillance of Muslims, arguing that it was "necessary and inevitable" in order to protect Japan against the threat of international terrorism. We appealed the decision, but the Tokyo High Court sided with the district court. Now we’re before the Japanese Supreme Court.
This article was originally posted December 18, 2015 on the Center for Constitutional Rights blog. Read the entire article here.