Homeless targetted in Tokyo

Monday 1 December 2008

On November 13, officers from the Shibuya station of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department made rounds of Shibuya station and Miyashita Park coercing homeless persons in the areas to provide fingerprints and be photographed. We make this statement in protest of the extremely blatant and discriminatory violations of the privacy and human rights of homeless persons in Shibuya by local police forces.

 At 2:00pm on November 13, two plain-clothes police officers went from tent to tent in Miyashita Park asking people for their names and family registry address while saying, "We need to know who you are in case of a medical emergency" and "Do not worry, this has nothing to do with eviction." They then proceeded to take photographs and fingerprints of the individuals.

A majority of homeless persons staying in the tents went along with what was asked of them. During this same time, homeless persons in the Shibuya station area as well as those beneath the 246 National Highway ramps also report having their fingerprints and photographs taken. Though presented as "voluntary" by the officers involved, the exchanges were, in essence, coerced seeing that individuals targeted by the officers had difficulty in refusing officers’ requests for "cooperation" when suddenly and directly approached.

In recent years, as public security measures have grown increasingly stringent, homeless persons have been repeatedly subjected to questioning, searches of their person and property, and forced escorts to police stations. No legal basis whatsoever exists for the Shibuya district force’s move to collect information from homeless persons in the area. They would not be able to come to our homes posing questions and requesting photographs and fingerprints. As such, for them to target individuals "without homes" is an extremely selective and discriminatory violation of individual privacy. This is inexcusable.

In the past, homeless persons were seen by police officers as "criminals-to-be" and thus commonly subjected to fingerprinting and photographs. However, facing growing resistance against such treatment as voiced by homeless individuals and various NGOs, as well as public criticism for rights violations, they had not recently been visibly engaged in fingerprinting or photographing homeless individuals, even in the Shibuya area. The fact that district police have returned to past discriminatory tactics in recent weeks indicates a revisiting to former hard-line security measures that "profile" homeless individuals as potential criminals. Moreover, it is absurd to insist that this incident is unrelated to increasing evictions and property removals practiced against homeless persons in the Shibuya area over the past year.

In October of 2007, a citizen’s group was pulling strings for evictions of persons from under National Highway 246 by Shibuya station, in December the Tokyu Corporation was responsible for evictions carried out by subway guards that resulted in one death, and in July of this year persons were forcibly removed from the Tokyu Department Store by overly-eager G8 Summit guards. In addition, prior to this month’s incident, enhanced tactical use of evictions as a security measure within Shibuya subway stations has been noticeable, despite previous calm in subway corridors. Regardless, as it is a matter of survival, homeless persons in these areas continue to defend themselves from expulsion from Shibuya station.

Then, in the midst of all this, it was discovered this past May that the sports apparel and accessories maker, Nike Corporation, is backing a large-scale renovation of Miyashita Park. Nike’s plan is to invest millions into building a skateboard park and open cafe and buy the naming rights to the public space so as to re-name it Nike Park. Should this plan be realized, over 30 homeless persons from the park would be left without a place to stay and Nojiren would no longer be able to hold the winter and summer events it has thrown in Miyashita Park for over 10 years. Furthermore, the park itself - a public space - would be transformed into a corporate space meaning that Shibuya residents and visitors would no longer have a place to sit back, relax, snack or chat outdoors and NGOs would no longer be able to use the open area for gatherings or demonstrations. The agreement with Nike was passed without ever being put up for a vote in the Shibuya ward council, and to protest the injustice of the top-down manner of making official arrangements, Nojiren formed "The Coalition to Protect Miyashita Park from Becoming Nike Park" in June. In July, we hosted a protest before Nike headquarters in time with demonstrations at the Hokkaido G8 Summit. In August we held a summer festival at the park aiming to see that it wouldn’t be out last. In September and October we held gatherings and demonstrations. At this point, there is no question that both Nike and Shibuya Ward can sense that they are cornered.

Continuing evictions of homeless persons in the Shibuya regions are clearly being coordinated with the new addition of the Fukutoshin subway line in June of this year and extensive plans for development centering on Shibuya as the Toyoko line will be brought underground. The current harassment of homeless persons by Shibuya officers is nothing other than another way of applying pressure to persons "in the way" of city plans. Homeless persons in the area are being forcibly squeezed out by major corporations hungry for profit such as Tokyu and Nike, their lackeys in public office such as the ward chief, ineffectual ward council members, and the brute force backing the whole travesty - the police.

While we protest the aggressive fingerprinting and photographing of homeless persons by the Shibuya district police, we also seek a direct apology along with the destruction of the private information already illegally and unjustly collected. We will continue to fight to defend the livelihoods and lives of homeless persons alongside our friends in Shibuya, all of Japan, and the world.

November 15, 2008

Shibuya Free Association for the Right to Housing and Well-being of the Homeless (Nojiren)

Contact address: Higashi 1-27-8 Shibuya, Tokyo

Tel: 03-3406-5254

voice your complaints with the Tokyo Metropolitan police at:

— Web:  (1.Name, 2. Address, 3. Phone number, 4. Ignore the dots, 5. COMMENT). English, Japanese, any language ok.
— TEL: 03-3498-0110 Metropolitan Police; Shibuya Department

NIKE Japan at:
— Web:  (1. Categories-choose last one, 2. email address, 3.Family Name and Given name, 4, Title, 5.Comment). any language OK.
— TEL: NIKE Japan customer service; 0120-500-719

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