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  • NYT on forced confessions by Japanese police

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on May 12th, 2007

    Hi Blog. Thanks to two friends for sending me this. Another good article from former hack and now serious journalist Norimitsu Onishi. Keep it up!

    Japan’s interrogation techniques of 23 days’ incarceration with marathon inquests break down plenty of innocent people, as the article below demonstrates. A primer on the issue available at debito.org artery site at http://www.debito.org/whattodoif.html#arrested

    IF YOU DID NOT DO IT, DON’T CONFESS. OR ELSE YOU WILL GO TO JAIL.

    And it’s certainly an issue germane to this blog since Japanese police routinely engage in racial profiling and targeting foreigners–expressly in the name of “effective prevention of infectious diseases and terrorism”. It’s lucky that with Japan’s extremely high conviction rates (more than 99%) that these people got off. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    =====================================
    Pressed by Police, Even Innocent Confess in Japan
    THE NEW YORK TIMES, May 11, 2007
    By NORIMITSU ONISHI

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/11/world/asia/11japan.html?ex=1179547200&en=a4eb5f0efa88a7a9&ei=5070&emc=eta1

    SHIBUSHI, Japan — The suspects in a vote-buying case in this small town in western Japan were subjected to repeated interrogations and, in several instances, months of pretrial detention. The police ordered one woman to shout her confession out a window and forced one man to stomp on the names of his loved ones.

    In all, 13 men and women, ranging in age from their early 50s to mid-70s, were arrested and indicted. Six buckled and confessed to an elaborate scheme of buying votes with liquor, cash and catered parties. One man died during the trial — from the stress, the others said — and another tried to kill himself.

    But all were acquitted this year in a local district court, which found that their confessions had been entirely fabricated. The presiding judge said the defendants had “made confessions in despair while going through marathon questioning.”

    The Japanese authorities have long relied on confessions to take suspects to court, instead of building cases based on solid evidence. Human rights groups have criticized the practice for leading to abuses of due process and convictions of innocent people.

    But in recent months developments in this case and two others have shown just how far the authorities will go in securing confessions. Calls for reforms in the criminal justice system have increased, even as Japan is to adopt a jury-style system in 2009 and is considering allowing victims and their relatives to question defendants in court.

    In Saga Prefecture in March, a high court upheld the acquittal of a man who said he had been coerced into confessing to killing three women in the late 1980s. The court found that there was no evidence against the man other than the confession, which had been extracted from him after 17 days of interrogations that went on more than 10 hours a day.

    In Toyama Prefecture the police acknowledged early this year that a taxi driver who had served almost three years in prison for rape and attempted rape in 2002 was innocent, after they found the real culprit. The driver said he had been browbeaten into affixing his fingerprint to a confession drawn up by the police after three days of interrogation.

    “I Just Didn’t Do It,” a new documentary by Masayuki Suo, the director of “Shall We Dance?” has also raised popular awareness of coerced confessions. The documentary is based on the real-life story of a young man who was falsely accused of groping a teenage girl on the Tokyo subway and imprisoned for 14 months. It portrays how the authorities extract confessions, whether the accused are guilty or not.

    “Traditionally in Japan, confessions have been known as the king of evidence,” said Kenzo Akiyama, a lawyer who is a former judge. “Especially if it’s a big case, even if the accused hasn’t done anything, the authorities will seek a confession through psychological torture.”

    The law allows the police to detain suspects for up to 23 days without an indictment. Suspects have almost no contact with the outside world and are subject to constant interrogation, a practice that has long drawn criticism from organizations like the United Nations Human Rights Committee and Amnesty International.

    Suspects are strongly pressed to plead guilty, on the premise that confession is the first step toward rehabilitation.

    The conviction rate in Japanese criminal cases — 99.8 percent — cannot be compared directly with that of the United States, because there is no plea bargaining in Japan and prosecutors bring only those cases they are confident of winning. But experts say that in court, where acquittals are considered harmful to the careers of prosecutors and judges alike, there is a presumption of guilt.

    In Tokyo, the National Police Agency acknowledged mistakes in the vote-buying case here in Shibushi but defended the system. “We do not think that this is the kind of thing that happens all the time,” said Yasuhiro Shirakawa of the agency’s Criminal Investigation Bureau.

    “It is not only about confessions,” he added. “We always inspect whether there is corroborating evidence and whether what the suspects said is true or not.”

    In Shibushi, the authorities have gone unpunished, as have those in the two other cases. In a written reply, the police said they had followed the law in their investigation but seriously took the verdict to heart.

    It remains unclear what set off the investigation in 2003 of the campaign of a local politician, Shinichi Nakayama, who was elected for the first time to the local assembly that year, beating the protégé of a longtime power broker.

    The police started by accusing Sachio Kawabata — whose wife, Junko, is the assemblyman’s cousin — of giving cases of beer to a construction company in return for votes. Mr. Kawabata said he had given the beer because the company had sent guests to an inn that he owned.

    Mr. Kawabata soon found himself enduring nearly 15 hours of interrogation a day. Locked in a tiny room with an inspector who shouted and threatened, he refused to confess.

    So on the third day, Mr. Kawabata recalled, the inspector scribbled the names of his family members on three pieces of paper. He added messages — “Grandpa, please hurry up and become an honest grandpa,” and “I don’t remember raising you to be this kind of person” — and told Mr. Kawabata to repent.

    Drawing no confession after an hour, the inspector grabbed Mr. Kawabata by the ankles and made him trample on the pieces of paper.

    “I was shocked,” recalled Mr. Kawabata, 61, who was hospitalized for two weeks from the stress of the interrogation. “Man, I thought, how far will the police go?”

    Mr. Kawabata, who was never indicted, recently won a $5,000 judgment for mental anguish. Trampling the pieces of paper, it turned out, had its roots in a local feudal practice of ferreting out suspected Christians by forcing them to stomp on a cross.

    The police then moved on to more potent alcohol. According to the trial’s verdict and interviews with 17 people interrogated by the authorities, the police concocted a description of events according to which the assemblyman spent $17,000 to buy votes with shochu, a popular distilled spirit, and gifts of cash.

    One of the first to confess was Ichiko Fujimoto, 53, a former employee of the assemblyman. After a couple of days of interrogation she broke down and admitted not only to distributing shochu and cash to her neighbors, but also to giving four parties at her home to gather support for the assemblyman.

    “It’s because they kept saying, ‘Confess, just confess,’ ” Ms. Fujimoto said in an interview at her home. “They wouldn’t listen to anything I said.”

    Everything in her confession was made up, a court concluded. But it was enough for the police to start extracting confessions from others for supposedly receiving shochu and money at the parties. One neighbor, Toshihiro Futokoro, 58, began despairing on the third day of interrogation, even though he had yet to be formally arrested and was allowed to go home after each day’s questioning.

    “They kept saying that everybody’s confessing, that there was nothing that I could do, no matter how hard I tried,” Mr. Futokoro said, adding, “I thought that nothing I said would ever convince them.”

    At the end of the third day, Mr. Futokoro tried to kill himself by jumping into a river but was pulled out by a man out fishing. He then confessed.

    Another man, Kunio Yamashita, 76, succumbed after a week of interrogation. The police told him that he was the lone holdout and that he could go home if he confessed. “I hadn’t done anything, but I confessed, and I told them I’d admit to whatever they said,” said Mr. Yamashita, who eventually spent three months in jail.

    A woman, Eiko Hamano, 65, confessed after the police threatened to arrest her unless she cooperated. “They said that my grandson would be bullied at school, that my child would be fired from his company, that my whole family would suffer forever,” she recalled.

    On the fourth day, feeling so sick that she could barely walk, Ms. Hamano confessed to accepting money. To prove that she had spent the money, the police told her to find a receipt for an $85 purchase, she said.

    But when she presented the police an $85 receipt for adult diapers she had bought for her mother, they told her she was now confessing to having received $170 instead and needed a receipt for that amount. Luckily, she had just bought a sink for that amount.

    “Now I can laugh about it,” said Ms. Hamano, who refused an order by the police to shout a confession out of a window. “But it was serious back then.”

    Others never confessed, including the assemblyman, Mr. Nakayama, 61, who spent 395 days in jail, and his wife, Shigeko, 58, who spent 273 days.

    The village postmaster, Tomeko Nagayama, 77, spent 186 days behind bars. She was held alone in a windowless cell that she was forced to clean every night after enduring a full day of interrogation.

    The police said her refusal to confess was harming her family, she said. Her husband was sick and could not live alone; her daughter had to quit her job to take over the duties at the post office.

    But Ms. Nagayama, a former schoolteacher, never once considered confessing.

    “I felt I’d rather die,” she said. “This kind of thing just shouldn’t be tolerated in this world.”
    ENDS

    6 Responses to “NYT on forced confessions by Japanese police”

    1. Global Voices Online » Japan: Forced Confessions Says:

      [...] Debito comments on a New York Times article describing the case of 13 men and women “acquitted this year in a local district court, which found that their confessions had been entirely fabricated“. Debito notes that “The Japanese authorities have long relied on confessions to take suspects to court, instead of building cases based on solid evidence. Human rights groups have criticized the practice for leading to abuses of due process and convictions of innocent people.” Share This [...]

    2. Turner Says:

      This brings up a point I’m not sure anyone has addressed – in the case of foreign suspects nearing the end of their visa expirations, would the police attempt to detain them beyond the date on their visas, then legally arrest them for overstay? It seems like they would be an accomplice if they forced you to stay in the country past the expiration.

      By the way, I just want to be sure, because the same situation will come up with me next month – you’re allowed to stay in Japan past the expiration date while the paperwork is pending, right? How do you prove the paperwork is being processed if immigration maintains custody of your passport?

      —————————————-
      –THAT’S THE THING… I DON’T KNOW. I’VE WRITTEN ABOUT THIS IN THE PAST FOR THE JAPAN TIMES, AND IMMIGRATION DIFFIDENTLY TELLS US TO NOT WORRY ABOUT IT.

      FROM JAPAN TIMES JUNE 29, 2004:
      http://www.debito.org/japantimes062904.html

      ———————————–
      A university professor, who has worked in Japan for more than a
      decade, discovered his visa was three weeks overdue. He went to
      Immigration to own up — which, until recently, would have resulted
      in a lot of bowing and a letter of apology. But this time, after
      being questioned, photographed, and fingerprinted, he was told that
      he was now a criminal, warranting an indefinite period of background
      investigation.

      Problem is, officials refused to issue any evidence that his visa
      was being processed. Outside Immigration, he was still as illegal as
      when he walked in. Their advice? “Stay out of trouble. And remember
      your case number.”
      ———————————–

      THAT’S LUDICROUS, AS YOU CAN SEE. BUT I DON’T THINK IMMIGRATION HAS PLUGGED THE HOLE YET. ASK IMMIGRATION AND SEE, AND GET BACK TO ME? THANKS. DEBITO

    3. Turner Says:

      My new employer contacted them and received a direct response saying I could stay in the country while the paperwork was going through… but I have no written proof of that. Still, the company is a pretty respectable institution in that area (Kagoshima), so I would think someone would have to answer for such a lie. Personally, I think anyone should avoid situations which require you to show your gaijin card during this time – trouble with the police, traveling by air, etc. I’ll try to turn in the forms asap so as to avoid any misunderstanding, but I’ll see if I can get some documentation or some official statement from the immigration office in Kagoshima for you.

    4. James Annan Says:

      How do you prove the paperwork is being processed if immigration maintains custody of your passport?

      Perhaps I’m misunderstanding something, but I just applied for a new visa recently, and immigration didn’t keep my passport. In fact they stamped it to show that I’d applied. The postcard has just come through so I won’t need to test what would have happened if the existing visa expired when I’m abroad (which it was due to do in a couple of weeks, I had left it rather late considering I needed to travel).

      I could understand them being a bit shirty with someone who has actually overstayed before they re-apply…would seem sensible to at least try to send out a reminder…

    5. Liberal Japan » Blog Archive » Another forced confession Says:

      [...] 2007/05/11 Pressed by Police, Even Innocent Confess in Japan, The New York Times via debito.org; “In all, 13 men and women, ranging in age from their early 50s to mid-70s, were arrested and indicted. Six buckled and confessed to an elaborate scheme of buying votes with liquor, cash and catered parties. One man died during the trial — from the stress, the others said — and another tried to kill himself. But all were acquitted this year in a local district court, which found that their confessions had been entirely fabricated.” [...]

    6. hmmn » Blog Archive » Teigin Incident: How a painter was convicted for mass murder Says:

      [...] At the time, Hirasawa confessed but later claimed this was forced under torture. (As an aside, Japan has long had a problem with forced confessions.) At any rate, through various appeals and loopholes and indecision, he was never hanged for the crime and ended up spending 39 years in prison, 32 of them on death row. The NY Times article quoted above notes that at that time (1987) he had been on death row “longer than any other prisoner in the world.” [...]

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