Friday, December 02, 2005

High court upholds refugee's status

High court upholds refugee's status
Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 1, 2005
In a rare decision, the Tokyo High Court on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling that said the Justice Ministry was wrong to deny refugee status to a man who had been a senior member of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar (Burma).

It is only the second case in which a high court has ruled that an asylum seeker was a refugee. In the previous case in June, the Osaka High Court also ruled in favor of a Burmese man.

Presiding Judge Toshiaki Harada said there was reason to believe claims by the 52-year-old man that he faced persecution in Myanmar. The man said he was a former regional chapter leader for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

Immigration officials questioned the claims, saying the man entered Japan on an authentic passport and had communicated with his family in Myanmar after his arrival. The judge said immigration authorities were wrong to deny him refugee status.

"The decision to deny refugee status on the grounds that sufficient evidence to support the refugee claim did not exist would have to be called unlawful," Harada said.

The man, whose name is being withheld by lawyers, arrived in Japan in June 1998 and applied for asylum soon after.

He said he first participated in anti-government activities in the 1970s and joined the NLD soon after it was established in 1988. He fled the country after learning police were preparing to arrest him in connection with a demonstration near Suu Kyi's house in May 1998.

Citing the precedent of the high court to overturn lower court rulings that favor asylum seekers, lawyers said the ruling reflected a change in the judiciary's perception toward refugee cases.

Lawyers said Harada held four hearings, not the one session that is customary in such cases. The judge also agreed to listen to testimony by Tin Win, a high-profile Burmese refugee in Japan, who testified on the man's past at the NLD.

"We believe that the ruling shows a growing awareness among the judiciary toward the unique nature of refugee cases, and hope that it will serve as a standard for future cases," said lawyer Yasuyoshi Hamano.

An official at the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau called the ruling "regrettable" and said an appeal might be considered.


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