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Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2001

BIG BROTHER WATCHING

Osaka's Koreans slam invasion of privacy


By GARY TEGLER
Staff writer

KYOTO -- Recent allegations that files on hundreds of Korean residents in the Kansai region were handed to the Public Security Investigation Agency by local city offices has cast a pall of fear over the community, according to leaders of two major ethnic organizations.

"We do not know exactly who is being investigated or why, but we have been aware of these kinds of things before," said Shin Kibong of the Osaka headquarters of the Korean Residents Union (Mindan). "We understand that the agency has the right to investigate subversive groups (but) are baffled as to why they would be gathering information on ordinary families."

Last month, the media reported that documents and photographs had been given to the agency between April and July by local authorities in places including Kyoto and Osaka. Protests were lodged at local PSIA offices by several organizations representing both North Koreans and South Koreans living in Japan. A PSIA spokesperson refused to tell The Japan Times how many people were being investigated or even whether the alleged incidents had taken place.

The agency, established in the early 1950s, monitors the activities of groups perceived to be a threat to national security.

"We cannot comment on any investigation that we may or may not be undertaking," said the spokesperson, who refused to be identified.

But Shin said Mindan has learned that local government officials submitted files on over 200 Koreans to the agency without questioning why they were needed.

"It states in Japanese law that the PSIA must give a reason for gathering documents," said Shin. "We have since asked the Kyoto city, Osaka city and Osaka prefectural governments to refrain from such action in the future. We also expressed strongly our opposition to such activities in written form. Should such a thing happen in the future, we will take a different approach."

The agency reportedly collected alien registration data on Korean residents as part of an investigation based on the Subversive Activities Prevention Law. The Alien Registration Law, however, stipulates that the central and local governments should specify reasons when requesting copies of foreign registration records.

A representative of the Osaka chapter of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), a pro-Pyongyang organization, said that his office had been flooded with phone calls from people asking if they were among those being investigated.

"We could only explain that the agency must have a purpose in gathering such information, otherwise they wouldn't do it," said the spokesperson, who also requested anonymity. "We told people that the details of who and why remain a secret the agency is unwilling to divulge. This issue is related to human rights and privacy. We are very disturbed that city offices acquiesced so willingly."

The spokesperson also indicated that Chongryon is moving toward calling for revisions to the Subversive Activities Prevention Law.

"Without a law prohibiting such documents from being handed over, we simply have no recourse," he said. "We must insist that municipal governments take more responsibility for their actions."

Kansai is home to the majority of Koreans residing in Japan. According to a Justice Ministry report issued last year, there are over 290,000 people of Korean ancestry living in Kansai. Most live in Osaka Prefecture, with Kyoto home to the second-largest community.

Tetsuji Yamamoto, head of a business association in Osaka's Tsuruhashi district, said that although this was the first time he had heard of the agency asking for personal files on Korean residents, the incident will make local store-owners more reluctant to cooperate with authorities in the future.

"The Japanese government needs to have a more international outlook regarding criminal activities," said Yamamoto. "We are upset that Koreans are being targeted. Some have suggested that the agency may be preparing dossiers ahead of next year's World Cup to prevent violence. But how does this relate to Koreans who have lived here their whole lives?"



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