The International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)


29 January 2002

Japanese Judicial System requires self-purification to combat against discrimination: a response to the dismissal of the filed objection for the second appeal for retrial of the Sayama case

It has become apparent once more that the Japanese judicial system not only lacks the internal mechanisms to combat discrimination, but also functions in such a way to perpetuate the existing discrimination and prejudice within Japanese society. In light of the special appeal to the Supreme Court that was lodged today against the dismissal of the objection filed for the second appeal for retrial of the Sayama case, IMADR urges that the Japanese judicial system to demonstrate its will and ability to prevent the perpetuation or furthering of discrimination, and to investigate any possible cases of miscarriage of justice with diligence and sincerity. IMADR intends to monitor the Supreme Court's review of this case to ensure that this case is justly treated and any past wrong convictions are overturned.

On 23 January, the Tokyo High Court made a decision to dismiss the objection filed for the second appeal for retrial of the Sayama case. This decision failed to touch on any of the new evidence or the new expert examination submitted by the defense counsel and was merely a formality. It also failed to mention the discriminatory investigations against Buraku communities at the time of the incident or the possibility of there having been forced confessions. Despite the numerous recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) and other bodies, the Japanese judicial authorities have refused to disclose to the defense counsel the evidence held by the prosecution. Furthermore, despite the fact that there have been a number of recent cases in which death sentences have been overturned after some 30 years as a result of retrials, no positive measures have been taken to reform the system that would allow relief for miscarriage of justice and prevent false charges.

It has been 39 years since the incident took place. Mr. Ishikawa, who spent 32 years in prison from the time he received a life sentence to his release on bail, has continued to maintain his innocence. During this period, it has been pointed out on many occasions that mistakes were made during this court case. There was evidence that Mr. Ishikawa was prosecuted on the basis of discriminatory investigations and discriminatory media reporting against Buraku communities. Mr. Ishikawa was detained in the police custody for a prolonged period of time and was forced into a false confession during a threatening interrogation. There is substantial evidence of false charges having been made.

IMADR is gravely concerned that the Japanese judicial authorities are not fulfilling their obligation to examine the possibility of false charges with sincerity and are refusing to allow a public examination of this case. The Sayama case is symbolic of the manner in which the Japanese judicial system has not only failed to act as the last resort in the combat against discrimination, but has perpetuated discrimination by mirroring the prejudices within Japanese society. IMADR strongly urges once again to the Japanese judicial authorities that the evidence held by the public prosecutor be disclosed to the defense, that the path for retrial, which has been closed for 25 years, be made open, and that justice be brought to Mr. Ishikawa. The responsibility to prove that the decision made by the judiciary was made without considerations based on prejudice rests not on the discriminated side but clearly on the judicial side.

The Japanese administration has also failed to act on its obligation to eliminate the system that produces false charges. In other words, despite the UN HRC's recommendations, it has maintained the system that enables the police to detain suspects for up to 23 days without charge and trial and has refused to regulate police interrogations, which are currently neither tape-recorded nor videotaped. IMADR calls for these procedures be reformed according to international human rights standards. Moreover, IMADR believes that early ratification of the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides a procedure to enable individuals to directly report to the UN HRC, could lead to improve the situation.

The Sayama case and many other cases all over the world illustrate the frightening possibility that can befall any human being when there is discrimination in society at large against certain groups and when the administration of justice and law enforcement institutions reflect this discrimination. Mr. Ishikawa said, "if the court deals with this case with sincerity, I believe that my innocence will be proven one day" despite the latest decision. The responsibility of the Japanese authorities, which have turned a deaf ear for 39 years to Mr. Ishikawa, is extremely heavy.


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International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism IMADR)

3-5-11, Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032, Japan

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Sayama Case

(Excerpt from the NGO Report in Response to the First and Second Report Prepared by the Government of Japan Concerning the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Buraku Issue), published in February, 2001.)

For the murder of a high school student taken place in May 1963 in Sayama City, Saitama Prefecture, Mr. Kazuo Ishikawa was falsely arrested and charged when he was 24 years old.

On May 1st, 1963, Ms. Yoshie Nakata, aged 16, was lost on her way back home from school. Later at night of that day, a blackmail demanding for a ransom was delivered to her house. The police failed to arrest a possible suspect. In order to make it up, the police went into a Buraku community where Mr. Ishikawa lived and arrested him for a different charge on May 23. While in custody, the police forced him to make a false confession by threatening him and in exchange of some unfulfilled promises. He was charged for the murder of Yoshie, and the case was brought to the Urawa District Court. On September 4 of the same year, Mr. Ishikawa pleaded guilty before the court. Although the defense counselors pleaded not guilty on the grounds of his unreasonable confession and inconsistency in the course of finding evidence, he was sentenced to death on March 11, 1964.

After Mr. Ishikawa was transferred to the Tokyo Detention Center, the first hearing of his appeal case was held at the Tokyo High Court on September 10, 1964. He pleaded not guilty and revealed how he was deceived by the detectors to make a false confession. Although the expert judged his handwriting not identical to the one in the blackmail, the Judge Terao of the Tokyo High Court sentenced him to imprisonment for life.

On August 9, 1977, the Supreme Court dismissed his final appeal and confirmed the decision at the appeal court. On August 30, the defence lawyers group made a request for retrial before the Tokyo High Court, with the presentation of new evidence proving a discrepancy between the threatening letter and his confession regarding a portion of a correction of the date of the letter. However, the High Court did not make any further examination on witnesses or on-the-spot inspection. On February 7, 1980, the court made a decision to dismiss the retrial request. The defendant lawyers submitted again new evidences, such as forensic evidence, attesting a discrepancy between the way the victim was actually killed and the confession of the defendant, and new testimonies made by the ex-detector involved in the investigation of the murder case. The lawyers group requested the court to make a fact-finding inspection while requesting the public prosecutors office to disclose evidences held by the office. These requests were also taken up at the Diet session.

The group of lawyers made the second request for retrial to the Tokyo High Court on August 21, 1986. On December 21, 1994, Mr. Ishikawa was released on parole after the detention for 37 years and seven months. Since then, he has been fighting for his innocence and retrial. However, the Tokyo High Court again dismissed the second request for retrial on July 8, 1999. On July 12, the lawyers lodged a protest against the dismissal.

Source:"Buraku Mondai Jiten" edited by the BLHRRI, published by the Kaiho Shuppansha)