Friday, December 02, 2005

Anti-foreign backlash feared in Japan after murder

from Reuters:
Japanese police arrested an unemployed Peruvian on Wednesday on suspicion of strangling a primary schoolgirl and abandoning her body in a cardboard box, fanning fears of an anti-foreign backlash.

Concern about crime committed by foreigners has been growing in Japan, and broad media coverage of such offences has made many Japanese wary of welcoming more foreign residents to their nation despite prospects of a shrinking work force.

Activists now fear such feelings will be stoked still further by the arrest of Juan Carlos Pizarro Yagi, a Peruvian of Japanese descent, in connection with the murder of 7-year-old Airi Kinoshita last week, a crime that horrified the nation.

"Manhunt for Peruvian," said a banner headline on the front page of the morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun, a liberal daily, while others said "Arrest warrant issued for Peruvian."

"The fact that he was Peruvian was the big thing in the headlines, when there was absolutely no need to mention it," said Makoto Teranaka, with Amnesty International. "After all, most headlines don't say 'Japanese arrested.'"

"This is really quite a serious human rights problem, and shows that the winds of society are blowing harder against foreign residents of Japan."

Airi disappeared on Nov. 22 shortly after noon while walking home from school in the western Japanese prefecture of Hiroshima. Her body was found around two hours later packed into a cardboard box abandoned in an empty lot in full public view.

Yagi has denied killing the girl, media reports said.

The murder, which was top news on tabloid television shows, was seen as especially shocking because it took place in broad daylight in a residential area, and the fact that a Peruvian was arrested guaranteed wider play.

"There have already been a lot of comments on television that could fan prejudice, such as remarks implying foreigners commit a lot of crimes," said Yuriko Hara at IMADR, a group that fights racism and discrimination.

Hara also noted that most media outlets were referring to the suspect as Carlos rather than by his surname, as would be usual.

"That seems to be playing up the sensational aspect that this crime was committed by a foreigner," Hara added.

Foreign crime is undeniably rising as Japan's foreign population grows, but still only a small fraction of serious crimes are committed by non-Japanese.

The number of legally resident aliens has doubled over the past 25 years and now amounts to about 1.45 percent of the population.

Annual police reports highlighting the number of foreign arrests, and wide media coverage of them, create a sense among many Japanese that the problem is serious and growing.

Last February, in the most recent such report, police said they arrested a record number of foreigners in 2004. Still, only 2.29 percent of the 389,027 people charged with violating Japan's Penal Code and other relevant laws were foreigners.

Nearly 9 in 10 Japanese believe their country is less safe than it was a decade ago, and most blame foreigners and young Japanese for rising crime, government polls have shown.

"It's often said that concern about terrorism is feeding this fear of foreigners, but if you look at incidents of terrorism in Japan's recent history, all of them were conducted by Japanese," said Amnesty's Teranaka.

"Foreigners are simply being made scapegoats by people upset by rising crime rates here."

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