Suraj Case: Tokyo District Court finds “illegal” excessive force, orders GOJ restitution to family of NJ killed during deportation (contrast with UK case)


eBooks, Books, and more from ARUDOU Debito (click on icon):
Guidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free
“LIKE” US on Facebook at
If you like what you read and discuss on, please consider helping us defray maintenance costs and anti-hacking measures with a little Paypal donation:

Thanks for your support!

Hi Blog. Some moderately good news also came down the pipeline a few days ago, when the Suraj Case of police brutality and death in detention was drawn to a conclusion in Civil Court.  The Tokyo District Court faulted the GOJ with “illegal” excessive force, and doled out restitution of a paltry sum of about USD $50,000 for a man’s life.  Hokay.  For many (unless there is an appeal), that means case closed.

It’s good that somebody was found fault with.  Up until now, Japan’s Immigration Bureau got away with a clear case of cold-blooded murder of a NJ being manhandled by overzealous authorities.  However, this was a decision that took place in CIVIL Court, not Criminal, meaning no criminal penalty has been applied to Suraj’s killers.

Contrast this with a very similar murder case that just came down in the UK:  The Mubenga Case.  Same time line (an excruciatingly slow four years), same class of human being as far as the developed countries see it (a dark African man from Ghana/Angola), and same killing while in official custody.  Except in the UK case, you get arrests, a charge of manslaughter, and killers’ names made public.  In other words, the System in the latter case is less likely to protect individuals for their excesses, which is the much better deterrent for them to do this brutal act again.  Thus we’re more likely to see Surajs happen than Mubengas, since Japan’s criminal prosecutors decided not to pursue Suraj’s case at all.  And so the Suraj Case remains Japan’s shame, and should be a deterrent for future immigrants to come to Japan:  In Japan’s overall criminal system of “hostage justice”, an overstayed visa may become a capital offense.  Arudou, Debito


Officials faulted in death of Ghanian
Court rules immigration used ‘Illegal’ force on deportee

In a landmark verdict, the Tokyo District Court on Wednesday ruled that immigration officials were responsible for the death of a Ghanaian man they were forcibly deporting in 2010.

Finding that the officials “illegally” used excessive force to subdue Abubakar Awudu Suraj aboard a plane, the court ordered the government to pay about ¥5 million to his Japanese wife and his mother, who lives in Ghana.

The pair had sought more than ¥130 million in damages, arguing that Suraj, who was 45 at the time, suffocated while being subjected to abuse.

It’s the first time a court has ordered immigration officials to pay damages for the death of a foreigner they mistreated.

Caught overstaying his visa in 2006, Suraj was ordered deported. In March 2010, accompanied by a group of immigration officials, he was taken aboard a private jet at Narita airport.

Prior to takeoff, officials bound his arms and legs, stuffed a towel in his mouth and bent him forcibly forward, cutting off his air supply. They said later they were concerned Suraj might put up a violent struggle.

“Their effort to restrain him crossed the line to such an extent it can never be defended as necessary and reasonable,” presiding Judge Hisaki Kobayashi said, slamming their act as “dangerous” and “illegal.”

Rest of the article at


Contrast this with what happened on about the same time line line with an incident in the UK:

Jimmy Mubenga: three G4s guards to be charged with manslaughter
CPS says Stuart Tribelnig, Terry Hughes and Colin Kaler will be charged over 2010 death of Mubenga at Heathrow airport, Thursday 20 March 2014 08.26 EDT, courtesy of SendaiBen

Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained by the three guards on board a plane at Heathrow airport in October 2010.
Three G4S guards are being charged with manslaughter following the death of a man as he was being deported from the UK.

Jimmy Mubenga, 46, died after being restrained by the three on board a plane at Heathrow airport in October 2010.

On Thursday the Crown Prosecution Service said the guards, Stuart Tribelnig, 38, Terry Hughes, 53, and Colin Kaler, 51, would be charged with manslaughter.

Malcolm McHaffie, deputy head of CPS special crime, said: “There is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute Colin Kaler, Terrence Hughes and Stuart Tribelnig.”

Mubenga’s wife, Adrienne Makenda Kambana, said: “My children and I have waited a long time for this decision. We hope the CPS will now move this case forward quickly. We feel like we are another step closer to getting justice for Jimmy.”

The three guards were arrested following Mubenga’s death but in 2012 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring any charges against them.

That decision was reviewed following an inquest into Mubenga’s death last year in which a jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing following an eight-week hearing.

McHaffie said: “We have completed a fresh review of all of the evidence relating to the death of Jimmy Mubenga, including the new evidence arising from the inquest, and decided that three men should be prosecuted for manslaughter.”

The CPS said it had decided not to prosecute G4S for corporate manslaughter.

“We have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute G4S for either offence and, due to the fact that related proceedings are now active, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” it said in a statement.

Mubenga and his wife came to the UK in 1994. His family says that as a student leader in Angola he had fallen foul of the regime and was forced to flee. After a protracted legal battle he was granted exceptional leave to remain and he and Kambana moved to Ilford in Essex, where they set up home with their five children.

In 2006 Mubenga was convicted of actual bodily harm and sentenced to two years in prison following a brawl in a nightclub.

After serving his sentence he was transferred to an immigration detention centre and the process to deport him began.

On Thursday the family’s solicitor, Mark Scott, welcomed the CPS’s decision to prosecute the guards, adding: “It has been a three-and-a-half year struggle for the family to get to this point and they hope to get on with their lives once this final challenge is met.”

The three guards are due to appear at Westminster magistrates court on 7 April.

Solicitors for the three said they would be vigorously denying the charges. A statement on behalf of Hughes, Kaler and Tribelnig said: “My clients are very disappointed with the CPS’s decision, having previously been told after a very lengthy police investigation that no charges would be brought against them. They will be vigorously denying these charges in court.”

Deborah Coles, co-director of the Inquest campaign group, which has supported Mubenga’s family, said the CPS’s decision “reiterates the importance of legal aid for families to be represented at inquests”.

“It is legal aid that ensured a robust examination of all the evidence, which has ultimately resulted in today’s welcome decision. The cuts to legal aid mean that cases like this in the future may well not receive this kind of scrutiny.”


More press:

Court slams ‘illegal’ restraint in death of Ghanaian deportee, orders compensation

AJW/Asahi Shimbun, March 19, 2014


The Tokyo District Court blasted the “illegal” restraint methods used by immigration officials that led to the death of a Ghanaian national who was being deported four years ago and ordered the central government to pay about 5 million yen ($49,000) in compensation to his family.

Abubakar Awudu Sraj, 45, died on March 22, 2010, aboard an aircraft at Narita Airport.

His 52-year-old Japanese wife sued the central government, demanding 130 million yen in compensation.

On March 19, the Tokyo District Court declared that Sraj’s death was due to suffocation caused by illegal methods of restraint used by immigration security guards and ordered the payment of compensation.

Hiroshi Komai, professor emeritus at the University of Tsukuba specializing in international sociology, said the verdict highlighted the lack of human rights awareness in the Immigration Bureau.

“The Justice Ministry should seriously accept the verdict and make every effort to prevent a recurrence,” Komai said. “The whole world will be watching to see what it does.”

Sraj’s widow felt a sense of vindication.

“I believe that my husband, in exchange for his life, brought to light an issue for Japanese society,” she said.

The Tokyo District Court verdict said immigration officials used restraints on a man who was putting up very little resistance.

“The (act of restraining) was illegal because the possible danger far outweighed the need and appropriateness for such restraint,” Presiding Judge Hisaki Kobayashi said in the verdict.

The restraints used violated internal regulations at the Justice Ministry.

According to a report compiled by the Justice Ministry, Sraj’s hands and ankles were cuffed, and he was gagged with a towel as several security guards carried him onto the aircraft. Those guards then pushed Sraj’s back, forcing him to hunch forward in his seat.

Both of his wrists were further bound to his belt with a plastic band.

The district court accepted that version of events, and said that while Sraj showed indications that he did not want to be deported before he was placed on the plane, once aboard he showed little resistance.

“Breathing restrictions due to the gag and the limitations on movement of the chest and diaphragm caused by being forced into a posture of having his face near his knees led to breathing difficulties that caused death by suffocation,” the verdict said.

The court rejected the central government’s argument that Sraj died due to heart problems, and that the method of restraint had no causal relationship with his death.

At the same time, the district court also recognized that Sraj repeatedly said he did not want to board the plane while he was being taken to it. The court said such remarks led to the judgment that Sraj was partly responsible for having to be forcibly restrained.

For that reason, the court decided that the central government only had to pay half the damages incurred by Sraj’s death.

The Ghanaian first arrived in Japan in 1988 on a short-stay permit. After working in factories, he was arrested in 2006 for immigration law violations.

Following his death, the Chiba prefectural police sent papers to prosecutors for 10 security guards on suspicion of causing death through violent acts by government workers. However, in July 2012, the Chiba district public prosecutors office decided not to indict any of the 10 individuals.

Sraj’s bereaved family members are considering asking the prosecution inquest committee to take up the matter.

An official with the Immigration Bureau at the Justice Ministry said, “We will decide on what steps to take after sufficiently considering the contents of the verdict.”

The verdict comes almost four years to the day of Sraj’s sudden death. His widow still has not come to terms with the senseless way in which he was taken from her.

“My husband was not treated as a human,” she said.

During the trial, lawyers for the central government argued that Sraj put up fierce resistance as he was being deported.

However, the video shown by officials of the Chiba district public prosecutors office to his family showed a calm Sraj walking on his own two feet. Security guards carried him onto the plane.

“The primary goal of the guards was to carry out the deportation, so they likely did not think they were dealing with another human,” Sraj’s widow said.

She first met Sraj in 1988, and they began living together the following year. They married in 2006. The Tokyo District Court rescinded a deportation order for Sraj in 2008 on the grounds the couple was legally married.

However, the Tokyo High Court the following year overturned the lower court ruling on the grounds that because the couple had no children and because the wife worked, there was no pressing need for her to have a husband.

Sraj said at that time that foreigners could not win in Japan.

The restraints used against Sraj were widely criticized. The Ghanaian Embassy filed a protest with the government. The British magazine Economist said Japanese society was avoiding the issue.

In its annual report on the human rights situation in nations around the world, the U.S. State Department called the restraining methods used in Japan cruel and inhumane.

The Justice Ministry regulations said that only handcuffs and rope could be used to bind individuals. While ankle cuffs were not allowed, Sraj was cuffed on both his hands and ankles. The plastic band used on Sraj’s hands was also prohibited and towels were not allowed to be used as gags.

However, when the Immigration Bureau released the results of its investigation into the case in 2012, it said Sraj was a “special case” that permitted the use of such devices.

Despite defending the methods used, the Immigration Bureau subsequently revised its internal regulations. Those now clearly state that ankle cuffs are prohibited. New regulations also call for videotaping as much as possible when deporting individuals to allow for a visual record.

After Sraj’s death, the Immigration Bureau stopped deporting individuals against their will.

However, from July 2013, the bureau began chartering planes for forced deportations of individuals in groups, a major change from the past practice of deporting individuals one at a time on commercial flights.

Human rights groups have criticized the resumption of deportations without consent on the grounds the life and the will of the deportees are being ignored.


8 comments on “Suraj Case: Tokyo District Court finds “illegal” excessive force, orders GOJ restitution to family of NJ killed during deportation (contrast with UK case)

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    It’s kind of ironic to see the GOJ held accountable in civil court–not criminal court, since they are the ones who outsourced private security guards to work under the immigration bureau. No criminal charges against killers for death by neglect of duty means not accountability for the supervising agent. The article says “landmark,” but I have to say “farce.”

    What the article did not mention is that 1) Suraj remained detained as a suspect–not as a criminal who received sentence after the trial; and 2) court faulted the victim for resisting life-threteaning situation in way to mitigate circumstance for the defendant through an apparent misuse of civil code for homicide.

  • I’ve been the victim of unnecessary use of force by Japanese police as well; though not as extreme of course since I’m still alive. Use of force by Japanese police generally isn’t as extreme as in the US, for example, but the problem is, they have no clear use-of-force doctrine. I’ve had my arms grabbed forcibly, when I told them I wouldn’t show my ID, even though I had not physically resisted in any way. Hell, I’ve had my arms grabbed forcibly even when I did show my ID, simply because they had stopped me inside a store and I refused to step outside the store with them. They physically dragged me outside the store for a damn ID check; being inside wasn’t good enough for them. My friend was grabbed and forcibly dragged to the koban, without a word said, simply because someone had called and complained about him. The police officer didn’t even announce himself, or explain why he had stopped him; just grabbed him from behind and started dragging him.

    Japanese police are so ignorant on so many levels, it would be funny if it weren’t for the people who get hurt from it. The police here have no clue.

    — I think you’ll find that people who don uniforms feel empowered to get physical. Same as anywhere, of course, since they feel especially entrusted with keeping order (that’s just social psychology). However, as you note with the unclear use-of-force doctrine, uniformed people in Japan are particularly physical towards NJ I believe because many assume they can’t communicate with NJ verbally. I too have had at least one JR ticket wicket keeper physically grab me (without a word) because he thought my ticket was somehow not legit (he was wrong, of course), one umpire at a winter sports event physically push me several times (again, without a word) because he didn’t think I was standing where he wanted me to stand on the sideline, and some other guy at a party put a very painful martial-arts hold on my wrist (again, without a word) to steer me to a part of the room he felt that NJ belonged. It’s most unpleasant and demeaning. And if it’s a cop, you dare not get physical back, or into the slammer you go.

  • Bitter Valley says:

    The physical aspect that Debito is referring to – the idea that you are an animal that needs to be controlled or herded because you can’t communicate with these gaijin is just that- the physical aspect of discrimination and exclusion.

    It’s just as demeaning in my humble opinion as being signed at, or baby-Japanesed, or being met with Engrish despite speaking in Japanese, because the other party has decided that you are a gaijin. See above.

  • John (Yokohama) submits:

    “State appeals ruling that blamed immigration officials for deportee’s death
    Asahi Shinbun, April 2, 2014

    The government has filed an appeal against the court ruling that found immigration officials at fault for the death of a Ghanaian national who was being deported four years ago.

    Lawyers for the government filed the appeal March 31 with the Tokyo High Court.

    The Tokyo District Court on March 19 ruled that the death of Abubakar Awudu Sraj, 45, who died while in restraints aboard an airliner set for takeoff from Narita Airport in 2010, was the result of excessive and illegal measures used by officials with the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau.

    “His breathing difficulties resulted from a gag and from being forced to sit in a position with his face placed near his knees, which limited the movement of the chest and diaphragm, causing death by suffocation,” the verdict read.

    The district court also ordered the central government to pay about 5 million yen ($48,000) in compensation. His Japanese wife and other relatives had demanded 130 million yen.

    The government contended during the trial that “his death was caused by an irregular heartbeat aggravated by a cardiac tumor and was unrelated to the restraints.”

    But the district court rejected the argument.

    “The (act) was illegal because the possible dangers far outweighed the need and appropriateness for using such restraining methods,” it said.”

  • I’m a bit troubled by the phrase “being forced to sit in a position with his face placed near his knees”. That means tied down, doesn’t it? What else could it be. He was tied down.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @TJJ #5

    Or maybe they sat him down on the floor, pushed his face towards his knees, and then one of the sat on his back?

    There was a case a couple of years ago (sorry, no link- does anyone else remember?), where the J-cops were called out to a domestic. When the cops arrived, the wife was ‘apparently’ out of control, so the cops put her on the floor, and one of them sat on her chest to ‘restrain’ her. She suffocated and died right there with the cop sitting on her.

    In the UK, the governments Home Office issues guidelines regarding ‘control & restraint’, which clearly prescribes what methods are to be used, and when. Also, such techniques can only be employed by police who have received training from a Home Office certified instructor.

    Yet another clear case of Japan having many ‘black and white rules’ that ‘must’ be observed, whilst at the same time having many legal ‘grey areas’ allowing for decisions on a ‘case by case’ basis.

    ‘Japan is a country of law’- don’t make me laugh!

  • — Meanwhile deaths in Japanese Immigration custody continue…

    Two detainees die at immigration center
    AFP/Japan Today, CRIME APR. 01, 2014
    Courtesy of JK

    Two detainees at an immigration center in Japan died over the weekend, an official said Monday, just months after the death of another man at the same facility.

    An Iranian man in his 30s choked on his dinner on Friday, a spokeswoman at the immigration center in Ushiku, northeast of Tokyo, told AFP, adding that he was taken to hospital but died on Saturday afternoon.

    On Sunday morning, a Cameroonian man in his 40s was found unconscious in his cell, she said.

    “Officials immediately called an ambulance while giving him cardiac massage,” she said, adding he was pronounced dead at hospital about an hour later.

    She said the Cameroonian had complained of feeling sick on Thursday, and had been moved from a shared room to a private one. She said he had also seen a doctor.

    “The cause of his death is not yet known,” she said, adding a autopsy will be carried out on the bodies of both men.

    Rights activists say conditions in Japanese detention centers are poor and allegations of mistreatment are rife.

    In October last year, an asylum-seeker—a member of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic group—collapsed and died after staff at the Ushiku immigration center failed to call for a medic, allegedly because the doctor was having lunch.

    Kimiko Tanaka, a member of a local pressure group, said information was currently hazy, but that campaigners were trying to collect information on both cases.

    “We hear that detainees, including roommates of the Cameroonian man, refused to return to their cells, which are locked at night, as a form of protest,” she told AFP.

    The center’s spokeswoman said there had been some disquiet over the man’s death, but “things have now returned to normal”.

    Japan tightly restricts the number of immigrants and asylum-seekers it accepts.

    According to Justice Ministry figures for 2013, 3,260 people applied for asylum, many from Turkey, Nepal and Myanmar, as well as countries in South Asia and Africa.

    Japan accepted six refugees during the year, down from 18 in the previous year.


  • “allowing for decisions on a ‘case by case’ basis.”

    Its called situational ethics. Japan may be a country of black and white laws, and many Japanese love to quote them to you. Its just they dont apply when a gaijin is involved. Have several situational ethical experiences, and you will see you belong in the grey area. As Debito has said before, dont get arrested in Japan.

    “The physical aspect that Debito is referring to – the idea that you are an animal that needs to be controlled or herded because you can’t communicate with these gaijin is just that- the physical aspect of discrimination and exclusion. ”

    Ive dealt with this allot also. During a project, the ojisan at work who will slap your hand or shoove you out of the way because he thinks you, the gaijin, are incompetent, only latter to realize your not after you show him up. It can become a tiring experience, but its just something you must deal with in Japan.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>