January/March 2005 No.134

Supreme Court Dismisses Special Appeal for a Retrial of the Sayama Case

On March 16, 2005, the Supreme Court under Presiding Judge, Niro Shimada, made a surprise decision to dismiss the special appeal requesting a retrial of the Sayama Case by the defense counsel. "The statement made by the Supreme Court indicated that dismissal of the appeal was a foregone conclusion. Their decision was also one-sided, lacked both a fact-finding investigation and questioning of analysts, and distorted the existing facts themselves."

The Supreme Court stated that their close examination did not find anything that could suggest reasonable doubt over the murder having been committed by the applicant of the appeal. This decision was made without any advance notice, which blocked the defense counsel from submitting new evidence and supplementary documents to the Court. In response to the decision, the Central Headquarters of the Buraku Liberation League immediately announced its intention to continue fighting until Mr. Ishikawa wins his innocence.

On March 24, the defense counsel for the Retrial of the Sayama Case met and decided to concentrate on locating new evidence to make a third request for retrial by the fall of 2005. Mr. and Mrs. Ishikawa were also present at the meeting and expressed their strong will to continue fighting.

On March 25, following the first submission of petitions calling for a retrial of the Sayama Case signed by 430,000 people last October, subsequent petitions signed by an additional 321,311 individuals were brought to the Supreme Court by Professor Niwayama, Satoshi Kamata, a documentary writer, and Tetsuya Fuse, all representing the Civil Group for a Retrial of the Sayama Case.

Meanwhile, the Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute has adopted a resolution protesting against the decision and calling for an earlier retrial of the Sayama Case, at its 61st General Assembly of March 18, 2005. It reads:

We Strongly Protest against the Supreme Court's Dismissal of Mr. Ishikawa's Special Appeal for the Second Request for Retrial of the Sayama Case

On 16 March 2005, the First Petty Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the Tokyo High Court's decision to dismiss Mr. Kazuo Ishikawa's special appeal for the second request for retrial of the Sayama case. We, the Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, strongly protest against the Supreme Court's decision. At the same time, we reiterate our demands for the urgent reform of the Supreme Court, which made the decision only through formal considerations of the written evidence without facing up to false charges and Buraku discrimination, as well as of the judicial system which preserves and fosters such false charges.

In the Sayama case, which occurred in 1963 in Sayama City, Saitama Prefecture, the police came to a deadlock and conducted intensive investigations into Buraku areas on the basis of prejudgment. The police then arrested Mr. Ishikawa on a charge of convenience, released him on bail and immediately arrested him again. During the period of police custody prolonged for almost a month, Mr. Ishikawa was not given opportunities to meet lawyers and family members and forced into making a "confession", being played on his social ignorance imposed upon him as a result of discrimination. It is thus a typical case of false charges.

It has been regarded from the outset as "a case of false charges on the basis of Buraku discrimination" and serious doubts have been raised with regard to the "evidence against" Mr. Ishikawa. During the present appeal, the Counsel had submitted new pieces of evidence in favor of him to the Supreme Court, which indicated: (1) that handwriting in the threatening letter delivered to the victim's home was different from that in Mr. Ishikawa's written report to the chief of the police station; (2) that Mr. Ishikawa could not have written the threatening letter because his literacy was equivalent to that of children in the lower grades; and (3) that it could not have been the case that a fountain pen used for writing the threatening letter was not found through two domiciliary searches, in the light of the former investigator's testimony, stating that "it didn't come out even after we'd searched above the thresholds through two searches". The Supreme Court, however, swept aside them, ruling that they "do not lead to reasonable doubt about [Mr. Ishikawa's] offence".

Late Mr. Iwakichi Wajima, former head of the Counsel for the Retrial of the Sayama Case and President of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, had sharply criticized judicial judgments concerning cases of false charges, pointing out that they were inconceivable in the light of "healthy common sense of citizens". The Supreme Court, however, made another mistake in spite of its normative status as the last "fort" of human rights.

Moreover, the Japanese government has failed to take necessary measures to remedy legal and institutional problems, with a view to preventing cases of false charges. These problems include the daiyo-kangoku (substitute prison) system, under which the police are allowed to keep accused persons in its custody for 23 days at the maximum, and the non-disclosure of a lot of evidence at the prosecutor's disposal. They are major challenges in the light of international human rights standards and have been subjected to recommendations by the UN Human Rights Committee for a long time.

We will continue to have firm solidarity with Mr. Ishikawa and his Counsel, who will file a third request for retrial in order to prove his innocence. At the same time, we strongly demand that the Japanese judiciary and government provide urgent remedies for miscarriages, including the one in Mr. Ishikawa's case, and that they immediately take all appropriate measures to prevent cases of false charges.

18 March 2005
Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute