Rights group slams Japan’s ‘hostage’ justice system

Japan’s Justice Ministry has commissioned research into criminal code reforms after allegations of rights abuses, but Human Rights Watch thinks this effort is unlikely to produce positive recommendations. – EPA pic, May 25, 2023.

JAPAN’s justice system “systematically” violates suspects’ rights by routinely denying bail and extending detentions through re-arrests, Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged today. 

A report compiled over three years by the civil society group took aim at the country’s “hostage justice” system – a term widely used after former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn’s shock arrest and escape from Japan sparked scrutiny of the process.

The rights group gathered testimony from 30 people currently or previously accused of crimes in Japan, as well as more than two dozen experts and family members.

“Japan has a legal system widely regarded internationally as competent and impartial,” the report said.

“But its criminal justice system functions on laws, procedures, and practices that systematically violate the rights of accused persons.”

Japanese prosecutors can hold a suspect for up to 23 days for each charge they are investigating, and may interrogate a detainee without a lawyer during this period.

“One of the most egregious ways that prosecutors and police abuse the criminal justice system is by filing new claims related to the same case,” HRW said.

Each re-arrest begins a fresh pre-indictment period, during which suspects are ineligible to apply for bail, while bail requests by indicted suspects are often denied.

“Suspects are frequently detained prior to trial for long and arbitrary periods – sometimes for up to several months or over a year – to obtain their confessions,” the report said.

Ghosn’s 2018 arrest on suspicion of financial misconduct thrust the issue into the global spotlight.

While in prison, the French-Brazilian-Lebanese auto tycoon told AFP his months-long detention would “not be normal in any other democracy”.

He fled Japan hidden in an audio equipment box after being granted bail, and now lives as a fugitive in Lebanon.

A United Nations working group said in 2020 Ghosn’s arrest and detention in Japan was “fundamentally unfair”, a view Tokyo slammed as “unacceptable”.

The Japanese Justice Ministry last year commissioned an expert panel to research reforms to the criminal code.

But HRW said the closed-door committee is unlikely to be “a source of positive recommendations”.

Current practices “cause great personal hardship and lead to wrongful convictions”, while violating constitutional rights, the group said, calling for an end to the “misuse” of criminal laws.

A question-and-answer page on the justice ministry’s website says accusations of “hostage justice” are “not accurate at all”.

“The Japanese criminal justice system does not force confessions by unduly holding suspects and defendants in custody,” it said.

“There are strict requirements and procedures stipulated in law… with due consideration given to the guarantee of human rights.” – AFP, May 25, 2023.

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