FUKUOKA – The Fukuoka High Court on Tuesday upheld a suspended prison sentence for a former senior police officer convicted of coercing a suspect into confessing by making him step on documents bearing the names of relatives.
Presiding Judge Hiroo Suyama turned down an appeal filed by Takahiro Hamada, 46, who was convicted of assault and cruelty by a public official under the Penal Code in connection with the interrogation tactic, which dates back to feudal times.
Hamada, a former assistant inspector in the Kagoshima Prefectural Police, used the “fumiji” guilt-inducing ploy to extract the confession during an investigation into alleged violations involving the 2003 Kagoshima Prefectural Assembly election, according to a lower court ruling last March.
Suyama brushed aside the argument of Hamada, who did not appear in court, that his action did not constitute an act of cruelty because he used the technique just once and performed no punishable acts.
Hamada’s case was among those that prompted police to open up somewhat their closed-door questioning of suspects.
The Fukuoka District Court found Hamada guilty and sentenced him to 10 months in prison, suspended for three years. He had pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors had sought a prison term of 10 months.
The district court found that Hamada grilled Sachio Kawabata, 62, a hotelier in Kagoshima Prefecture, in April 2003 without arresting him and forced him to step on three pieces of paper on which the names of his father and grandson were written along with an expression of hope that Kawabata would become an honest man.
Kawabata was a supporter of Shinichi Nakayama, 63, who won a seat in the Kagoshima Prefectural Assembly election that month.
Hamada seized Kawabata’s legs and forced him to step on the documents at least once, the district court ruled.
After the police investigation, 13 people were indicted for alleged election violations, but no criminal charges were brought against Kawabata.
In February 2007, the Kagoshima District Court acquitted 12 of the 13, dismissing the credibility of the confessions extracted from some of the accused during the investigation. The 13th defendant died during the trial.
Prosecutors did not file an appeal against the decision, which was finalized in March.
On Sept. 1, police in Tokyo and 39 prefectures set up new posts on a test basis to supervise and monitor interrogations in the wake of a spate of acquittals largely due to inappropriate police questioning. Police officers other than investigators would fill the new posts.
Fumiji is similar to the “fumie” technique used by the Tokugawa shogunate in the 17th century to smoke out closet Christians by forcing them to step on a portrait of the Virgin Mary or other Christian symbol.