U.S. woman loses 10-year Japan court battle against fingerprints

TOKYO -- Japan's Supreme Court on Monday upheld the government's authority to fingerprint alien residents of Japan in a case that has kept an American woman living in the nation from traveling abroad for 10n years.

The court rejected the appeal of Kathleen Morikawa, 42, a columnist who had demanded the justice ministry's decision denying her a re-entry permit because she refused to allow the fingerprinting be declared null and void.


The court also rejected Morikawa's demand for $8,000 in compensation from the government. The ruling upheld earlier decisions of the Tokyo High Court and Tokyo District Court.

Morikawa, a U.S. citizen, has lived in Japan since 1973. In September 1982, she refused to allow officials to take her fingerprints in accordance with the Alien Registration Law.

Two months later, the Yokohama branch office of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau refused to issue a re-entry permit following a planned Christmas holiday trip to South Korea. The Justice Ministry maintained Morikawa was in Japan illegally because she refused to be fingerprinted.

She later appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming the ministry's action violated the constitutional guarantee of free travel. Morikawa remained in Japan over the past 10 years while her case has moved through the court system.


In his ruling, Justice Motoo Ono said judicial precedents have clearly established that the Japanese constitution does not guarantee free overseas travel by foreign residents of Japan.

The ruling quoted a 1978 court decision that said the human rights of foreign residents are guaranteed under the constitution, but only within the framework of the system of a foreigner's residence in the country.

The Tokyo District Court and Tokyo High Court previously ruled in favor of the ministry, noting foreign residents do not share the same rights as Japanese citizens to re-enter the country.

All foreign residents over the age of 16 who stay in Japan for more than one year are required to have their a print taken of their left index finger when applying for registration certificates.

A new law which will take effect in January will eliminate fingerprinting for South Koreans, Taiwanese and other foreigners with permanent resident status.

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