Former leprosy sufferers join suit against government

Sixteen former leprosy sufferers on Thursday joined a damages suit being contested at the Tokyo District Court demanding an official apology and compensation for the government’s former discriminative policy against people with the disease.

The number of plaintiffs in the Tokyo lawsuit now stands at 93. A total of 404 individuals who have since been cured are waging similar legal battles against the state in courts in other parts of the country.

The first action was launched in 1997 by 12 former sufferers at the Kumamoto District Court, demanding the government pay 115 million yen in compensation and officially apologize through the media.

The plaintiffs claim that decades of government discrimination against former patients under the Leprosy Prevention Law infringed on their constitutional human rights.

The law, which was abolished in 1996, mandated the eviction of patients to 15 sanitariums scattered across the country. Most of the them had been cured by the 1950s, but some still suffer from aftereffects such as deformities.

Reflecting people’s prejudice against the disease, also known as Hansen’s Disease, patients were treated like criminals at the sanitariums and contact with the outside world was severely restricted, some plaintiffs claimed.

At Thursday’s press conference, Teiichi Suzuki, 84, who recently enlisted as a plaintiff, said he decided to join the legal battle because he could not accept the explanation the government gave during previous trial hearings.

Government officials said the government did its best for sufferers by making constant improvements in patients’ living standards.

“The gradual improvement in our living standard is a result of our decades-long struggle, not the government’s willingness to protect our human rights,” Suzuki said.