Rights groups tell Japan to fully tape interrogations of criminal suspects

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Human rights organizations submitted a petition Monday to the Justice Ministry urging the government to introduce full recordings of interrogations by prosecutors and police.

“We want the government to show to the world that Japan is fully capable of protecting its people’s basic human rights and keeping pace with global standards,” Mitsuhiro Sakaya, a member of a group supporting people who are wrongfully accused, told reporters Monday.

The 16 groups submitting the petition included Amnesty International Japan and Human Rights Now.

Partial electronic recordings started in 2006 on a trial basis, later spreading nationwide in 2008, ahead of the introduction of the lay judge system in 2009. At present, cases that will be scrutinized by lay judges are subjected to such partial recordings, but interrogators can decide which part to record.

Facing reporters, Shoji Sakurai, who was acquitted in 2011 for killing a man in 1967, after spending nearly 30 years behind bars apparently for a crime he didn’t commit, condemned prosecutors and police.

“They made a mistake and wrongfully convicted an innocent man. In this case, they are the criminals,” Sakurai said, suggesting that people in such authority should not be allowed to have the discretion to single someone out without sufficient evidence. “Ironically, their very refusal to opt for full disclosure of their interrogation process indicates (they were in the wrong). They are showing their true colors.”

Last Friday, the U.N. Committee against Torture issued a statement pointing out that Japan’s criminal justice system should do away with its traditionally strong reliance on confessions by suspects, and demanded it implement “safeguards such as electronic recordings of the entire interrogation process” to prevent wrongful convictions.

The human rights groups are particularly critical of a government panel’s proposals in April that recommended both that full-scale videotaping of the interrogation process be the norm, with a few exception on extreme cases, or maintaining the status-quo, in which interrogators will be allowed to go off-the-record when necessary.

Such partial recordings, the groups warned, would keep the unpleasant aspects of the grilling forever behind closed doors and do nothing to prevent more coerced confessions and wrongful charges, such as those that have surfaced to light in recent years.

In another case, four men were believed wrongfully arrested last year for a series of cyberthreats police later traced to Tokyo resident Yusuke Katayama, 30, who continues to deny committing the crimes.

  • Ron NJ

    “How will we ever get confessions if we have to record interrogations!?”

  • johnny cassidy

    That’s a welcome statement from the UN’s Committee against Torture (CAT), I wonder if Japan will take it to heart. According to reports on Twitter and in Wednesday’s Tokyo Shimbun, Japan’s representative at the CAT meeting, Hideaki Ueda, made another statement which raised eyebrows at the forum. When the other international representatives present chuckled in response to a gaffe made by Ueda, he’s said to have quickly shot back with a not so diplomatic “SHUT UP” uttered in perfectly clear English and chided the group for laughing. When state officials from anywhere behave like that with the eyes of the world on them, I shudder to think what goes in their corner of the globe when no one is looking.