Photo/Illutration Lawyers and a plaintiff hold a news conference after Tokyo Hight Court ruled against their dual citizenship lawsuit in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district on Feb. 21. (Kanako Ida)

The nationality law, which directly affects individuals’ human rights, may be out of tune with today’s world, where countless Japanese cross borders regularly for business or daily life activities.

The law should be examined from the viewpoint of this reality.

Article 11 of the nationality law states: “If a Japanese citizen acquires the nationality of a foreign country at their own choice, that Japanese citizen loses Japanese nationality.”

People who lost their Japanese nationality in this way have filed lawsuits in Tokyo and other cities, saying the provision violates the Constitution.

The Tokyo High Court on Feb. 21 dismissed one of the cases filed by eight people living in Europe.

The court acknowledged that the second paragraph of Article 22 of the Constitution gives people the freedom to “divest themselves of their nationality.” But the ruling argued that the article does not actively guarantee them the freedom to retain their Japanese nationality when they acquire foreign citizenship.

The court contended that the purpose of the nationality law provision--to prevent and eliminate multiple nationality--is “rational.”

But the ruling cannot be interpreted as an endorsement of the failure to help the plaintiffs and others in a similar predicament.

The eight plaintiffs acquired foreign nationality for different reasons. The decision was the only option to maintain their livelihoods in the countries where they live now.

They were required to obtain citizenship to continue the businesses they started, for instance, or to take public office. Some plaintiffs said they never imagined the step would affect their Japanese nationality.

People’s nationalities define their rights and are closely linked to their identities. Maximum caution in required for forcibly stripping Japanese nationality from a person who has voluntarily acquired foreign citizenship.

Because of the provision, which has been carried over from the old nationality law enacted in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), more than 25,000 Japanese have renounced their citizenship since 1985. Many of them must have unwillingly taken the step.

As of October last year, around 1.3 million Japanese nationals lived abroad, and a record 550,000 of them were permanent residents.

These people could later face the need to acquire the nationality of the country where they now reside.

The nationality law provision has far-reaching effects.

For example, if Japanese nationals who have lost their citizenship under the law return to Japan to take care of their parents, they would be treated as “foreign nationals” and face all sorts of obstacles if they want to stay long-term in their homeland.

But Japanese nationals who have obtained foreign citizenship through birth and marriage are effectively allowed to have multiple nationalities.

The provision, which automatically strips Japanese nationals of their citizenship when they acquire foreign nationality, stands out as an exceptionally rigid and harsh rule.

Since there is no way for the Japanese government to automatically learn that a Japanese national has acquired foreign citizenship, there is a risk of arbitrary implementation of the law. For example, passport renewal could be denied for only certain people.

Due to globalization, more than 70 percent of countries now permit multiple citizenship, with certain conditions in some cases. In many cases, social security rights, obligatory military service and other related issues are dealt with under treaties.

The plaintiffs of the lawsuit intend to appeal the high court ruling. The Diet should take action and not wait for a Supreme Court ruling.

It is the legislature’s responsibility to debate the necessity of the provision from various viewpoints, including the policy imperative of protecting the rights of Japanese living abroad and supporting their activities.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 23