Monday, March 16, 2009

The Weekly N&C for March 16th, 2009

Just another dead foreigner

It reads like a plot element from a police procedural; a murder, fairly shocking in context, and a mystery of several layers as to why and by whom it was commited.

Here is the original report as carried (in Japanese) by the Yomiuri newspaper. For convenience, here is almost the same report as carried (in English) by Kyoudou (Kyodo) wire service. In summary:

An ambulance service in Aichi Prefecture received a call from a resident that (paraphrased) ‘a car was on fire with someone inside it’ in the early morning hours of the 13th of March (local time) 2009.
A 26-year-old male resident nearby, who called an ambulance, said, "The car's horn sounded at around 1:50 a.m. and continued blaring, and when I looked outside it was engulfed in flames."
Police responders found in the ruins of the incinerated vehicle the body of a man in the front passenger seat. Further investigation would reveal multiple stab wounds including mortal injuries to the heart and lungs, but that the victim was likely still at least clinically alive at the time of the fire.

Tracing back the ownership of the vehicle found the last registered owner to have been in Nagoya City but who had given up the vehicle’s ownership as surrendered collateral for an unpaid debt. The “former” owner had no idea who or for what purpose the car was being used for after he gave up title (or at least gave the car to someone; there is a question as to whether such a transfer would remove ownership liability).

Then, the identity of the victim was determined...

Morteza Farhadi, a 46-year-old Iranian national residing in Inabe, Mie Prefecture.

…and then the curtain closed on reporting about this story.

Since Saturday’s news cycle, there has been a grand total of one media report on the case (in Japanese) citing the police forensics as determined to date. Measurements of stab wound depth; the description of the body position in the passenger seat as found – hunched over forward; and otherwise not a single thing about circumstances or scenarios surrounding this murder.

Here is why this should be getting your attention, in no particular order:

.The police, especially the National Police HQ, never miss a chance to make media hay anytime a foreigner is involved in a major (felony; state crime) criminal incident. It plays into the accepted fable that non-Japanese are much more dangerous than Japanese.

.The media loves a bloody murder. “If it bleeds, it leads” may as well be the implied rule for newspaper editors everywhere, but especially in Japan the idea of bloody, red-handed murder is almost required to be the lead story for days as the media milks out the shock value of knife / gun / blood / panic / grotesque / violence (in what ever mixture fits the case in question). It is especially “good” if the murder then results in a ghastly form of covering up the evidence; dismemberment and / or hidden burial is a sure broadsheet-seller, arson counts for a lot as well in the media reaction.

.There is an accepted belief that of the roughly 10,000 Iranian nationals residing in Japan (about half of them perfectly legally doing so), a significant portion of them are smugglers or petty crooks. The provable allegation is that large numbers of Iranians used to enter Japan for various purposes before visas were required and enforced (law changed in 1992; since 1994, Japan has actually enforced visa requirements on Iranian nationals and has prosecuted a significant number of said persons in the country illegally), and that the habit of those Iranians was to engage in whatever commercial activity they could get away with for personal gain. This has led to the stereotypical image of the Iranian ex-pat with his little street vendor’s table near Ueno Station (Tokyo’s major north east rail terminal) hawking prepaid phone cards and various items of jewelry of dubious material and branding, who might just have a bit of dope for sale if you know how to ask for it. It is an unfair stereotype to all the hardworking legal immigrants, but enough cases of just such description have fallen into police hands that the label sticks.

.There is also an awareness in official circles that some number of Iranian migrants in Japan are engaged in international activities that border on smuggling. Some number of those, it is believed, may be state-sponsored. Not the ones trying to buy up used computers and cheap secondhand automobiles; those fellows are just treading a fine line between customs evasion and entrepreneurial success. But there are those hands in the game that are laundering money and attempting to obtain manufacturing and information technology for the benefit of… well, if it was known clearly for whom, there would be action taken. It is not provable (most of the time), so nothing happens besides ordinary local law enforcement.

So this time…

The Police aren’t saying much.

The Media, who would usually be trumpeting this, are letting the story fade.

The Popular reaction has been limited to “oooh, murder”, and after a few minutes of that the short attention-span of modern life took hold. “oooh, (insert next news story here)”

The Government, either the Gaimushou (Foreign Ministry) or Houmushou (Justice Ministry) seems to have no comment on this matter.


Let’s be honest. In a rational world, this would not be a big story. Even in Japan, people get murdered. It happens. It happens often enough to warrant the story being a page 2 or 3 item unless it is a breaking story. The fact that the victim was of foreign nationality should (again, in a rational world) barely raise the threshold of notice. The potential for it having been part of a larger espionage or gangland plot might, barely, make it newsworthy on a nationwide basis *if there was any clear indication of such*.

But this is not such a world.

This is an emotional world, at least in the news media. The only thing that could possibly subdue the frothing frenzy that is the mass media’s reaction to anything they can paint as controversial or grotesque would be…

…if someone with real authority told them to put a lid on it.

You see, Japanese newspapers and broadcasters are in the main dependent upon “Press Clubs” for access to various official press sources. The one threat that actually strikes home with the mass media here is if, and because it is only rarely so, I repeat *if* someone in the Police or National Government pulled in the editors of the major dailies and broadcast shows and told them “Lay off this story”, that so-called-guidance is backed up by the threat of “and if you don’t, you’ll be banished from all press access to official sources”.

Because there is just too much about this story…

…too much to notice…

…too much not being said…

…to let it be ignored.

End Notes:

The articles directly cited are embedded as links in the text

A very controversial, but highly reasoned source for information on civil rights and foreigner / police matters in Japan is the legal practice of Arudou Debito (a.k.a. Dave Aldwinkle), a crusading lawyer of the old-school who happens to be a foreign-born Japanese National. His website subcategory on “Japanese Police / Foreign Crime” is at *this* link. Note that, as of today, he has not commented on this particular case.

A somewhat dated, but still informative piece on Iranian migrants in Japan can be found at Iranians in Japan at Wiki-p. As always, remember Wikipedia is only as good as its sources.


ruggels said...

Do the Japanese have a credible espionage/counterespionage service?


Virinia said...

..and speaking of Iran, See this one?


L.Douglas Garrett said...


Officially, no espionage service.

Military Intelligence assets in the Self-Defense Forces exist, as do "assessment" assets in the Foreign Ministry.

Counter-espionage is limited by (a) that being considered in the main a law-enforcement task, and (b) the absence of what normal countries would have in the way of laws against treason or undisclosed foreign agency. There are laws protecting some classifications of government information, but most are binding only on Self-Defense Forces personnel and government officers.

so to answer the thrust of your question, "credible?" -- No.


(you are having a multiple identity crisis again, compadre)

Yes, saw it. We've had some discussions here before about the Bluefields - Monkey Point "project" and how the whole thing is likely just a Pasdaran front. That article just re-enforces the likeliness of such being correct.