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Japan follows singapore in dealing with foreign activists
by Walden Bello
9 July 2008

Trade, climate change, skyrocketing oil prices, and debt have been the
topics of discussion in the parallel civil society events to the Group
of Eight Summit, but the issue that has drawn the greatest attention is
the Japanese authorities’ heavy handed approach to security for the
official gathering.

21,000 police personnel have been deployed to the island of Hokkaido,
most of them to the city of Sapporo and nearby Toyako, where the meeting
will take place next week. Large numbers of them, including contingents
of riot police dressed up in Darth Vader gear, were stationed along the
route of the Peace Walk staged by several thousand protesters on
Saturday, July 5. To show they meant business, police smashed the
window of a vehicle and arrested two of its occupants for playing music
that they said was interfering with their operations. One
photojournalist and a participant in the demonstration were also

That same morning, 24 activists were flown back to Korea after being
held for over 24 hours at Hokkaido’s Chitose Airport. Nineteen of them
belonged to the international peasant group Via Campesina and four to
the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). As a result of this
action, several events were disrupted, including a symposium on free
trade agreements that I was supposed to speak at that had been organized
by the Korean trade unionists who had been deported.

An unofficial list of those not given visas to Japan included two
Bangladeshis, one Indian, and one Kenyan. Japanese immigration
authorities still have to act on the visa applications of several other
NGO activists. Susan George, one of France’s leading intellectuals, was
interrogated by immigration authorities in a small windowless room for
four hours. Lidy Nacpil, chairperson of the Jubilee South-Asia Pacific,
was subjected to the same petty questioning for three and a half hours.

It took nearly ten days after filing my before the Japanese Foreign
Ministry agreed to give me a visa, and only after strong daily pressure
from the G8 Action Network and other groups. Despite my possession of a
visa, the border police still stopped me for questioning when I arrived
at Narita International Airport on July 4. Peppered with silly
questions, like why I was going to Sapporo and what qualifications I had
to speak on the G 8, I finally told my interrogators that they should be
the ones providing the answers since they had obviously been already
briefed on my case by the Foreign Ministry. It was probably this staged
display of great irritation that persuaded them to release me after an hour.

Having attended several parallel gatherings around previous G 8 summits,
I can say that the border controls imposed on foreign activists by the
Japanese government have been the most restrictive and punitive. Japan
seems to be following the example of the Singapore government, which
refused entry to and deported scores of civil society representatives
who arrived to attend NGO events around the World Bank-International
Monetary Fund Fall Meeting in September 2006. Some people say that the
arrest and continuing detention of two Greenpeace activists in Tokyo
about ten days ago on still vague charges is really connected to the
security tightening around the G 8 summit.

It was this “Singaporeanization” of Japanese border policy that
representatives of scores of civil society organizations probably had in
mind when they said in an open letter to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo
Fukuda: “We are disappointed that Japan, as host of the G8 Summit, is
criminalizing freedom of expression. It is unacceptable for Japan, the
G8 or any other countries to prevent healthy, critical debates from
taking place alongside international meetings where decisions are being
made that will affect the lives of millions of people around the globe.”

Walden Bello

is senior analyst at the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South and the International Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton.