Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, January 27, 2008

'Justice' Japanese style

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Japan Times. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

'Justice' Japanese style


Special to The Japan Times

Even in a culture that frowns on displays of extreme emotion, Hiroshi Yanagihara cannot suppress his rage. The state falsely accused him of rape, imprisoned him for two years and then freed him with the odd words of Judge Satoshi Fujita ringing in his years.

Takao Sugiyama, who spent 29 years in prison following a 'forced' confessiono
Takao Sugiyama, who spent 29 years in prison following a "forced" confession DAVID McNEILL PHOTO

"I hope the rest of his life will be meaningful," said Fujita following a rare retrial at the Takaoka Branch of Toyama District Court.

While languishing in Fukui Prison, Yanagihara lost his job and his father, who died alone.

"The judge's not-my-problem attitude made me sick," Yanagihara said after the verdict.

In April 2002, following two rape incidents in Himi, Toyama Prefecture, the then 40-year-old taxi driver was picked from a set of photos by one of the victims after a colleague at his taxi company contacted police to say that an artist's impression of the suspect they had released appeared to resemble Yanagihara.

Convinced they had their man, the police ignored the lack of supporting evidence and pressed hard for a confession.

Yanagihara had a plausible alibi, there were no fingerprints at the scene and he wore shoes smaller than the footprints left behind by the rapist.

But after three days in custody during which police reportedly used a photograph of his dead mother to shame him, saying she would want him to own up, Yanagihara "confessed." Despite later retracting his statement, he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment in November 2002.

He was exonerated by Judge Fujita last October — only after the real rapist confessed.

Yanagihara was luckier than Takao Sugiyama, who spent 29 years in prison for a robbery/murder he insists he didn't commit. Now free on conditional release, the 60-year-old must notify the police of every major life change, and will return to jail until he dies if he commits another crime.

Last year, he had to apply to both the justice and foreign ministries for special permission to leave the country and speak to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland about the system of detention and trial that robbed him of half his life.

"The people I talked to in Switzerland taught me a little English," he recalls, laughing bitterly at the memory. "Crazy Japan."

In official comments published last May, the U.N.'s Committee on Torture unleashed withering criticism of Japan's treatment of people under arrest, singling out the extended detention of suspects in local jails known as daiyo kangoku (substitute prisons). In practice, these are the police-station cells in which suspects are incarcerated while detectives question them.

Interrogations and detentions can last up to 23 days without habeas corpus coming into play, meaning there is no requirement before then for suspects to be brought before a court to decide the legality of their detention. In extreme cases, such detentions can stretch into months, in what some critics have called "pretrial punishment."

Forced signed confessions, still considered the "king of evidence" by Japanese courts, are often the result.

Detention in police jails (rather than separate detention facilities controlled not by the police but by the Ministry of Justice), "coupled with insufficient procedural guarantees for the detention and interrogation of detainees, increases the possibilities of abuse of their rights, and may lead to a de facto nonrespect of the principles of presumption of innocence, right to silence and right of defense," said the U.N. committee.

In other words, the police can ignore the most basic legal protections of the Constitution.

The Justice Ministry called the committee's dismal report card "disappointing." However, those U.N. comments echo earlier reports by the Japan Bar Association, Human Rights Watch, the International Bar Association and other U.N. panels that say Japan's treatment of criminal suspects is unfair and leads to coerced confessions.

In about 99 percent of criminal trials in Japan, defendants are found guilty; and in the bulk of cases, the defendant has confessed to charges.

After three weeks, during which suspects often allege psychological and sometimes physical abuse, requests for release on bail can be denied. Lawyers are not allowed during interrogations.

Critics acknowledge that the police are mostly thorough, the legal machine functions efficiently in the majority of cases and that ultimately Japan incarcerates people at a far lower rate than most developed countries. But they say the damning U.N. report has finally focused minds here on something known by defense lawyers for years: the system is open to horrendous abuse.

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