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Activist still detained in Japan
This is a report on an pro-democracy activist in Japan, Mya Wai,
who was denied refugee status by the Ministry of Justice of Japan
on 13 August 1997 on the ground that the application was not filed
within sixty days of his entry into Japan. (There is a provision in
the Japanese law concerning immigration, so-called "Sixty Days
Rule", which provides that an asylum seeker must apply for refugee
status within sixty days of his entry in Japan, or within sixty
days of the occurrence of fear of persecution. Japan applies this
rule very strictly, and denies refugee status to the vast majority
of the applications on the ground that the applications were not
filed within sixty days of the applicant's entry in Japan,
regardless of the applicant's fear of persecution.) Mya Wai was
also denied a special permit (a special residence permit issued by
the Minister of Justice to those who lack any legal status in Japan
), and is currently detained by the Immigration authorities.
Until very recently, Burmese applicants for refugee status were
granted provisional release on the ground that they were applicants
for refugee status. However, although Mya Wai filed a new applicat
ion for refugee status on 21 August, his request for a provisional
release was denied on 17 September. This is the first such case
where a refugee
applicant was not granted provisional release. We fear that the
immigration authorities are changing its policy towards asylum
seekers to an even more restrictive one than before.
2. Mya Wai's activities
Before Mya Wai arrived in Japan, he was arrested and detained four
times for participating in demonstrations and distributing fliers.
The first time was in 1974 when he was taking part in a
demonstration at the time of former UN Secretary General U Thant's
memorial service. He was detained for six months. Here he was
submitted to a form of torture where they bound him to a chair, and
made drops of water fall on his head from a hole in a jug placed
about two meters above his head. Mya Wai was not able to move his
head as he was bound to a chair, and the water fell on the same
spot. As time passed the pain became unbearable, and he could not
stand even the sound of the water dropping. This went on for a
whole day from morning to the next morning, and Mya Wai fainted.
The second time was in 1976 when he participated in the student
rally and demonstration commemorating the 100th anniversary of the
birth of Thakin Kodawmaing.
This time he was detained for four to five months, and he was asked
questions such as 'Who is the leader of this movement? What does
the leader instruct you to do? Are you in contact with the
underground communists?' He was also hit on the head and kicked by
shoes. According to Mya Wai, his hearing was damaged from having
his head ground against the wall.
Mya Wai was again arrested on May Day, 1977, for distributing
fliers that criticized the government's labor policy. They said
'Oh, it is your third time,' and he was put in a punishment cell.
He was not allowed to talk to anyone, and was not even given food
for the first two or three days. This cell was less than one square
meter big, so he could not sit down and had to keep standing. He
did not have access to toilet facilities. He was detained for three
On 7 July 1978, the anniversary of the students movement, Mya Wai
was arrested again during a demonstration. When he gave his name as
Mya Wai, he was put in a dog cell because it was his fourth time.
He was detained for four months.
3. Mya Wai's first visit to Japan
Mya Wai came to Japan in December 1987. When in September 1988 the
coup occurred in Burma that suppressed the nation's voice crying
for democracy, Mya Wai became active as a founding member of the
Burmese Association in Japan (BAIJ).
4. Mya Wai's return to Burma
Mya Wai returned to Burma in December 1989 because his mother was
seriously ill. Two weeks after his return, his mother passed away.
In January or February 1990, an M.I. came in the middle of the night
saying 'I have some things to ask you,' and took Mya Wai away. Mya
Wai was interrogated about the BAIJ. The reason the military knew
that Mya Wai was a member of BAIJ was because the staff of the
Myanmar Embassy in Japan take photographs of the people
participating in demonstrations in Japan, and Mya Wai was in one of
the photographs. Mya Wai was actually shown that photograph. He was
asked about the BAIJ in general, and especially about what country
the BAIJ was related closely to, and what country the BAIJ received
financial aid from.
Mya Wai was detained for about six months. He was made to shout
'Restore democracy!' until he was exhausted. He was made to pretend
that he was riding on a motorcycle, imitating the sound of the
engine with his voice, or to pretend to be an airplane.
Mya Wai was released finally after pledging that he would no longer
take part in any pro-democracy activities.
5. Mya Wai's second visit to Japan
Mya Wai came again to Japan. After his arrival, he lived with Thein
Ngwe, who had obtained refugee status in 1993 and was a member of
Mya Wai resumed working with the BAIJ as soon as he returned to
Japan. He became an executive committee member in 1994, and has
been since then.
Mya Wai participated as an individual in the hunger strike that
took place in Tokyo on 8 August 1996. An account of this strike
including a photograph showing Mya Wai, was carried in 'Myet Khin
Thit', a semi-governmental publication in Burma.
Mya Wai was able to communicate with his family until June 1997.
The last time he telephoned them, he spoke to his wife. However,
after the press conference on 27 June 1997 regarding the parcel
bomb explosion in which the SLORC named Thein Ngwe (mentioned above
) and Thomas Gon Aung (a refugee applicant) as the senders of the
parcel bomb, and accused many more members of BAIJ as having
conspired in the incident, Mya Wai could no longer communicate with
his family by telephone. In early July he called the neighbor of
his home in Burma who promised to bring Mya Wai's family to the
phone at a certain time on the next day so that he might speak to
them. However, when Mya Wai called the neighbor the next day at the
promised time, that phone line did not work.
6. Conclusion and request
It is clear that Mya Wai cannot go back to Burma under such
circumstances, as it is certain that the SLORC would set him up as
having been involved in the parcel bomb plot.
It is difficult to understand why the Japanese government would not
grant refugee status to such a person merely because he did not
apply within sixty days of his landing in Japan. We can only say
that the Japanese standard of granting refugee status is far from
the standard set in the 1951 Convention.
For Mya Wai to return to Burma is extremely dangerous. However,
Japan would even deport a person such as Mya Wai.
As stated above, Mya Wai is still in detention. Since he was
detained, Mya Wai's blood pressure has gone up, and his physical
condition is by no means good.
The lawyers' group assisting Burmese asylum seekers is preparing
for a lawsuit demanding the cancellation of the denial to Mya Wai's
application for refugee status.
Please send a letter or FAX to the Japanese immigration asking it
to reconsider Mya Wai's request for provisional release.
Sample letter (English)
I am writing in regard to Mr Mya Wai, a Burmese (Myanmarese) living
in Japan, whose request for a provisional release was denied on 17
Mr Mya Wai has been arrested and tortured several times by the
military junta in his home country Burma (Myanmar), solely because
he was taking part in pro-democracy activities. It would be
extremely dangerous for Mr Mya Wai if he should be deported to
Please reconsider Mr Mya Wai's request for provisional release.
Please mail this to:
Tokyo Immigration Bureau, Ministry of Justice
3-2-21 Nishigaoka, Kita-ku
Tokyo 115 JAPAN
FAX should be sent to 81-3-3263-3882 (The People's Forum on Burma).
PFB will forward the faxes to the immigration office.
Sample letter (Japanese)