Prosecutors get case of deportee’s death

by Minoru Matsutani

Chiba police have turned over to prosecutors their case against 10 immigration officers suspected of being involved in the death of a Ghanaian deportee they had restrained and physically placed aboard a jetliner last March at Narita International Airport.

The action Monday came six months after the man’s Japanese widow and her lawyers filed a criminal complaint demanding that prosecutors take action against the airport immigration officers who overpowered Abubakar Awudu Suraj to get him on the jet, where he subsequently died of unknown causes while handcuffed in his seat.

The police turned their case against the 10 men, aged 24 to 48, who are still working, over to the Chiba District Public Prosecutor’s Office. They could face charges of violence and cruelty by special public officers resulting in death, a Chiba police officer said.

“This has taken way too long,” lawyer Koichi Kodama, who is representing Suraj’s widow, said Tuesday. “I just hope prosecutors handle the case appropriately.”

An official of the Immigration Bureau’s Immigration Control Division, to which the 10 officers belong, said, “We will continue to cooperate in the investigation, try to find out the truth and take appropriate action.”

Mayumi Yoshida, assistant general secretary of Asian People’s Friendship Society and a supporter of the widow, had quoted a Chiba police officer as saying the immigration officers carried Suraj, who was acting violently, aboard an Egypt Air jet on March 22. Handcuffed and his mouth covered with a towel, Suraj was found unconscious in the aircraft and confirmed dead at a hospital, Yoshida had quoted the officer as saying.

The police were unable to pinpoint the cause of death. They showed Yoshida a report dated May 20 that indicated there were no signs of disease or physical damage, either internal or external. Suraj came to Japan on a 15-day visa in May 1988, according to Yoshida. In 1990, he began living with the woman who later became his wife. He was arrested in 2006 on suspicion of staying in the country illegally and received a deportation order. The same month, his wife registered their marriage.

The Tokyo District Court ruled in February 2008 that the deportation order be waived, a decision reversed in March 2009 by the Tokyo High Court.