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Sunday, April 18, 2004

Scrap rat-on-foreigners Web site: Hyogo

Staff writer

KOBE -- Hyogo Prefecture has become the first local government to call on the Justice Ministry to abolish a contentious Web site that asks Japanese to report via e-mail any foreigners they suspect to be illegal aliens.

On Wednesday, Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido submitted a petition to the Justice Ministry, demanding the Web site be abolished. "We realize that the site was designed as a policy to crack down on illegal immigrants. But from the point of view of fairness to all, and of the human rights of non-Japanese, we ask the ministry to stop this site," Ido said in the petition.

The decision to officially protest the Web site came after Ido discussed the issue in late March in a meeting between prefectural officials and representatives of foreign resident groups in Hyogo.

Past meetings between the two sides had focused on issues of specific concern to the prefecture, but the March meeting was the first one the governor had personally attended.

Kjeld Duits, chairman of the Netherlands Society in West Japan, raised the issue with the governor, as did many of the other representatives.

"The site goes beyond discrimination. It ignores all basic human rights and should be closed down immediately," Duits said. Other groups present, including those representing North and South Koreans, Chinese, Brazilians and Vietnamese, also slammed the site.

Ido agreed to help, and sent the petition Wednesday. While other local governments, including the city of Kobe, have called on the ministry to exercise caution in operating the site, Hyogo is the first local government to officially call for its scrapping.

The ministry Web site has been controversial since it first opened in February. The original version asked for Japanese to report on foreigners for a number of reasons, from "disturbing the neighborhood" to "creating anxiety" among those who are reporting them. The ministry promised such foreigners could be reported anonymously.

After thousands of foreign residents and Japanese protested the site, warning it would lead to human rights abuses, it was twice rewritten to say that while most foreigners obey Japan's laws, an estimated 250,000 are in Japan illegally.

The site now asks that Japanese report foreigners they think might be working illegally. But efforts to get the ministry to remove the site continue, with Amnesty International recently condemning it and calling for its removal.

Hyogo has an estimated 103,000 foreign residents, most of whom are Korean or Chinese, and, along with Kobe, has a local reputation for being one of the most foreigner-friendly prefectures in the Kansai region.

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The Japan Times

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