Kurdish case becomes rallying cry for Japan protest against police

TOKYO (Reuters) - The case of a Kurdish man who says he was stopped and shoved to the ground by Tokyo police became a rallying cry for protesters marching in solidarity with Black Lives Matter on Saturday.

A demonstrator wearing a mask holds an ''Antifaschistische Aktion'' flag during a protest march over the alleged police abuse of a Turkish man, in echoes of a Black Lives Matter protest, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis, in Tokyo, Japan June 6, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Several hundred people chanting “I can’t breathe” to invoke the death of George Floyd in the United States marched through the trendy Shibuya district on a sultry afternoon, saying that police abuse - particularly against foreigners - was a problem at home as well.

“I feel very sad,” said Tomohiko Tsurumi, 43, who joined the march with his wife. “I always thought of this country as very safe and I realized that there is so much (police action) we cannot see.”

The 33-year-old Turkish man of Kurdish origin, who asked not to be named, told Reuters this week that he was stopped by police driving in downtown Tokyo on May 22 - three days before George Floyd died in Minneapolis when a police office knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

When the man would not allow police to search his car, two officers shouted at him and shoved him to the ground, the man said. A friend in his car filmed part of the incident.

Police declined to comment, saying they have not made anything public about the incident.

The video, seen by Reuters, includes the officers yelling at him to sit and not make trouble. One of the officers can be seen kicking the man in the leg before making him crouch on the ground.

That officer can be seen with his arms around the man’s neck, telling him to be quiet.

“I couldn’t breathe. If my friend hadn’t been filming I don’t know what would have happened,” the man said, adding the encounter left him with bruises on his neck and back.

“This was in the middle of the day and I was on the way to my dentist,” said the man, who said he has lived in Japan for 15 years and was not at Saturday’s protest due to what organizers said was fear of being arrested. “That’s what’s so upsetting.”

The man filed an assault suit against the two officers with Tokyo prosecutors on May 27, said his lawyer, Yasuaki Nara.

An African man at the demonstration with a friend said their appearance got them more scrutiny from Japanese police.

“I feel what George Floyd was feeling,” he said, declining to give his name or his country of origin. “We feel what his family is feeling.”

Reporting by Mari Saito; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by William Mallard