A group of Sri Lankan detainees at a Japanese immigration detention centre have been on hunger strike for more than a week, demanding to be released and protesting the mysterious death of an African deportee, AFP reported.
Some 70 detainees -- many of them Sri Lankans and Pakistanis -- have refused food since May 10, also seeking to highlight suicides there by a Brazilian and a South Korean inmate, say their outside supporters.
The protest comes after UN rights envoy Jorge Bustamante in March raised concerns about Japan's often years-long detentions of illegal migrants, including parents with children as well as rejected asylum seekers.
"Those in the centre suffer such mental stress from being confined for so long," said Kimiko Tanaka, a member of a local rights group, about the East Japan Immigration Centre in Ushiku, northeast of Tokyo.
Japan keeps tight control on immigration and last year, despite generous overseas aid for refugees, granted political asylum to just 30 people.
The hunger strike protesters said in a statement that "foreigners are the same human beings as Japanese" and claimed that conditions are severe and their freedom to practise their religions is being curtailed.
"The Immigration Bureau has forced asylum seekers to leave voluntarily by confining them for a long time, making them give up on their religion, weakening their will and torturing their body and soul," they said. "Japan, a democratic country, must not do such a thing, no matter what."
The protest erupted weeks after a Ghanaian man, Abubakar Awudu Suraj, died in unexplained circumstances in March as Japanese immigration officials escorted the restrained man onto an aircraft bound for Cairo. Last year 1,388 people, including 568 Myanmar and 234 Sri Lankan nationals, sought refuge in Japan, AFP reported.