Group targets miscarriages of justice

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Seven months after Nepalese Govinda Prasad Mainali was last year acquitted of a 1997 robbery-murder of a Tokyo woman, his supporters launched a new civic organization to call for eradication of wrongful convictions, which they claim are still rampant in the legal system.

The new group, set up Saturday, consists mostly of supporters of Mainali, along with others who were wrongfully charged in high-profile cases, including Shoji Sakurai, who spent nearly 30 years behind bars for a murder he was later cleared of based, like Mainali, on contradictory DNA evidence.

With Mainali’s release, deportation and acquittal last year, his support group disbanded in March. But its main representative, Mikiko Kyakuno, 61, said Japan’s criminal investigation system is still rife with problems that need fixing. Interrogations of crime suspects must be fully recorded and prosecutors must be required to disclose all evidence they possess, she said. In Mainali’s case, they had clear evidence, backed only belatedly last year by DNA tests, that indicated another man killed the woman, a Tokyo Electric Power Co. employee who moonlighted as a prostitute.

“Although Mainali was cleared of suspicion, we’re still strongly motivated to conduct further investigations into why such wrongful convictions could still occur, and figure out ways to prevent them,” Kyakuno told The Japan Times on Monday.

She said the almost 100-member group has garnered fresh support from a wide range of lawyers and celebrities, including outspoken manga illustrator Mitsuru Yaku, film director Masayuki Suo and retired Tokyo High Court judge Kunio Harada.

The group is also demanding that prosecutors limit exercising their option to appeal, which is a major reason the wheels of justice turn slowly, Kyakuno said. In Mainali’s case, he was acquitted by the Tokyo District Court, only to be convicted by the high court during an appeal by prosecutors.

Although acknowledging that it is necessary to scrutinize the legitimacy of every case, Kyakuno emphasized her organization is bent more on rectifying fundamental flaws in the legal system.

Kyakuno also voiced concern that the principle of “benefit of the doubt” is not only being neglected by prosecutors but also undervalued among the public.

“Think about it,” Kyakuno said, “convicting innocent people means we’re delaying the arrest of real criminals and allowing them to remain on the loose. If we let 20 or 30 years slip away without realizing the wrong person has been convicted, it will be extremely difficult to resume investigations.”