A 48-year-old Pakistani man who is awaiting deportation from Japan has begun a hunger strike after he discovered that he was being fed ham at the Yokohama immigration facility where he is being held.
The man, who has yet to be named, began his protest-driven hunger strike on August 4, but it wasn't until this week that the incident was publicly exposed. As reported by The Asahi Shimbun, both immigration officials and the man's supporters have said that he unknowingly consumed stewed hijiki that contained cubes of processed ham while in custody.
Needless to say, the consumption of pork is considered to be haram (forbidden) for many Muslims; adherents rightly insist that to ignore or "forget" that fact denies them their fundamental religious freedom—a right that is assured by the Japanese constitution. For the past two weeks, the man has been subsisting on water and honey; earlier this week was reported to be "well enough to chat," according to a supporter.
Japan's immigration offices are supposed to implement a standing policy that allows detainees in their facilities to observe any religious dietary restrictions, but both immigration officials and the contracted catering company admit that in this case they failed to do so. The Yokohama District Immigration Office official in charge of the case said, "We are going to implement strict checking measures before providing meals to prevent a recurrence."
That might be a little hard for skeptics to believe, though, considering there was an almost identical incident back in 2015, when a Muslim man awaiting deportation in Yokohama was served a salad with bacon in it—and began a hunger strike of his own. At the time, officials apologised and said, "Such a mistake is something that should not take place. We will try to avoid a recurrence."
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These two instances are hardly the only times that the Japanese government—one that has been generally mistrustful of gaikokujin ("people from the outside")—has violated the rights of Muslims. Back in 2010, a leak of 114 Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department documents revealed that the nation was conducting blanket surveillance of Muslims living in Japan. Sadly, Japan's Supreme Court upheld the blanket-surveillance policy earlier this summer.
We will have to wait and see whether the lesson about religious freedom finally sticks for those working in the Yokohama District Immigration Office.