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The Supreme Court rejected claims by a South Korean woman April 10 who demanded a retraction of the government’s refusal to issue her a re-entry permit after she refused to be fingerprinted.

The top court’s petty bench dismissed the case of Choi Sun Ae, 38, reversing a lower court decision that partially acknowledged her claims. Choi was appealing the Fukuoka High Court’s May 1994 ruling that dismissed her demands that the government reinstate her permanent resident status and pay redress.

Lawyers representing the government were also appealing the high court decision, which ordered the government to retract its earlier rejection of her application to re-enter Japan. Choi, a third-generation Korean pianist born and raised in Japan, was denied a re-entry permit in 1986 before she traveled to the United States to study music at Indiana University, on the grounds that she had refused to be fingerprinted when she renewed her alien registration in 1981 and 1986.

When she refused to be fingerprinted in 1986, she was told by the Justice Ministry that she would lose her status as a permanent resident and would not be allowed to return if she traveled abroad. Shortly before her departure to the United States in August 1986, she filed a lawsuit seeking nullification of the Justice Ministry decision.

In the ruling, presiding Judge Shigeharu Negishi said the government’s rejection of Choi’s re-entry permit was justifiable in light of the movement rejecting fingerprinting that was proliferating at that time. “The Justice Minister’s decision at that time to deny re-entry to those refusing fingerprinting cannot be considered extremely unreasonable,” the court said. All four judges on the Supreme Court’s No. 2 petty bench agreed on the ruling.

When Choi completed her study in the U.S. and returned to Japan in 1988, she was allowed to enter on a 180-day visa. She now lives in Yokohama, and must renew her visa every three years.

In 1989, the Fukuoka District Court rejected her call for nullification of the ministry decision. But the Fukuoka High Court overturned the lower court’s ruling in May 1994, ordering the government to grant her re-entry permission.

In its landmark ruling, the high court said the Justice Ministry abused its discretionary power when it refused her re-entry, calling the rejection “overly cruel.” But the high court turned down Choi’s claims that her permanent residency be reinstated, ruling that under the immigration laws, the permanent resident status becomes invalid when foreigners leave Japan without a re-entry permit. The same court also dismissed her demands for redress.

After the top court ruling, Choi said she was surprised and disappointed. “Even though I was born in Japan, nobody is willing to help me legally just because I have foreign nationality. Where should (Korean residents in Japan) vent anger?”

Fingerprinting of Korean residents, abolished in 1992, was first introduced in 1952 after the San Francisco peace treaty stripped Japanese nationality from Koreans who had come to Japan during colonial rule and their children.

The fingerprinting requirement angered many foreigners, who considered the practice a sign that authorities viewed foreigners as potential criminals, in violation of their human rights. In the early 1980s, the movement to reject fingerprinting among Korean permanent residents caught on nationwide.

Although the government revised laws to make the fingerprinting less upsetting for foreigners, the number of those who objected to the process topped 10,000 by 1985, experts said. Fingerprinting of permanent residents, including those from the Korean Peninsula, was abolished in a 1992 revision of the Alien Registration Law. The decision took effect in January 1993.

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