Human Rights Developments
Asia Watch focused on only one aspect of human rights in Japan in 1990, the treatment by the Japanese government of Chinese dissidents who were in Japan at the time of the military crackdown in Beijing on June 4, 1989, or who fled to Japan after the crackdown.
During the year, the Japanese government forcibly repatriated some Chinese claiming to be dissidents, most notably Zhang Zhenhai, a participant in the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square who hijacked an airplane to Japan in December 1989, allegedly for the purpose of seeking political asylum. Despite an international campaign to prevent his extradition on the grounds that he would likely be tortured upon his return, the Japanese government forcibly repatriated him on April 28. His appeals through the Japanese judicial system did not appear to be given a fair and impartial hearing. Zhang, who was in custody, was permitted only ten minutes with his attorneys prior to filing his application for refugee status, requiring him to write the application on his own. His lawyers did not even see a copy of the application until it had already been rejected by the Ministry of Justice. While it normally takes six months to a year to consider such applications, Zhang's was rejected in two weeks.
The government also obstructed the processing of requests for asylum, refugee status and visa extensions for Chinese fearful of returning to China because of their participation in protest activities. Under a Justice Ministry ban not lifted until late in 1990, lawyers were prohibited from contacting refugees in detention, and the government provided no information on refugee options to students applying for visa extensions.
In addition, the government consistently disregarded evidence that dissidents were likely to suffer arrest and imprisonment if they returned. One student had taken a highly visible role during the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, bringing food to the students. He was detained briefly after the June 4 crackdown, released after interrogation, and fled to Japan in late June. He received letters from China indicating that the Public Security Bureau in Beijing had arrested two of his friends and was looking for him. The Japanese government did not consider him in danger of persecution and pressed for his forced repatriation.
In some asylum and refugee cases, the government impeded access of Chinese to legal counsel and information, in violation of recommendations issued in 1977 by the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a pledge in Paris in July 1989 by the seven industrialized nations, including Japan, "to extend the stays of those Chinese students who so desire."51
Chinese students who took part in demonstrations or joined dissident organizations in Japan experienced systematic harassment by Chinese embassy officials, including surveillance, interrogation and threats. The Japanese government failed to protest, thus appearing to condone restrictions on the students' freedom of expression, assembly and association.
In December 1990, there were indications that the Japanese government was considering a more flexible approach. The Justice Ministry issued ten 90-day visa extensions, and immigration officials appeared to be considering measures which would allow more Chinese students with expired visas to stay in Japan.
Officials of the US embassy in Tokyo, while acknowledging that Chinese embassy officials were harassing Chinese students in Japan, did little to urge an end to the practice.52 They also rejected the notion that Japan has engaged in refoulement, or forced repatriation of those who face persecution. After discussing the situation with the Japanese Justice Ministry, representatives of the US embassy in Japan accepted the Ministry's view that no one in danger of persecution had been deported to China.
The Work of Asia Watch
In June, an Asia Watch delegation visited Tokyo to open a dialogue on human rights issues with the main political parties and with members of the Japanese Diet, and to build on contacts already established with non-governmental organizations.
Asia Watch led the US part of the campaign to prevent the extradition of Zhang Zhenhai, through press releases, appeals to the Japanese government, and Congressional advocacy. In October, Asia Watch issued a newsletter, Japan: Harassment of Chinese Students. Copies were widely distributed in Tokyo and Washington. Some members of Congress wrote the Japanese Justice Ministry as a result. In addition, Asia Watch urged the State Department to express its concern to Japanese officials.