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Officials faulted in death of Ghanaian

Court rules immigration used 'Illegal' force on deportee

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

In a landmark verdict, the Tokyo District Court on Wednesday ruled that immigration officials were responsible for the death of a Ghanaian man they were forcibly deporting in 2010.

Finding that the officials “illegally” used excessive force to subdue Abubakar Awudu Suraj aboard a plane, the court ordered the government to pay about ¥5 million to his Japanese wife and his mother, who lives in Ghana.

The pair had sought more than ¥130 million in damages, arguing that Suraj, who was 45 at the time, suffocated while being subjected to abuse.

It’s the first time a court has ordered immigration officials to pay damages for the death of a foreigner they mistreated.

Caught overstaying his visa in 2006, Suraj was ordered deported. In March 2010, accompanied by a group of immigration officials, he was taken aboard a private jet at Narita airport.

Prior to takeoff, officials bound his arms and legs, stuffed a towel in his mouth and bent him forcibly forward, cutting off his air supply. They said later they were concerned Suraj might put up a violent struggle.

“Their effort to restrain him crossed the line to such an extent it can never be defended as necessary and reasonable,” presiding Judge Hisaki Kobayashi said, slamming their act as “dangerous” and “illegal.”

“I’m truly glad what they did to my husband was found illegal. That was a huge load off my mind,” Suraj’s 52-year-old wife, who wants to remain anonymous, said after the ruling.

Now that immigration authorities have been found culpable for his death, “I demand an official apology from the Justice Ministry and sincerely hope it will improve the way foreigners are deported,” she said.

At issue was the exact cause of Suraj’s death. A second autopsy carried out two years after his death revealed that Suraj had a cystic tumor of the atrioventricular node (CTAVN), a minor heart condition.

Immigration authorities had argued that Suraj “happened to” suffer an attack at precisely the moment they restrained him, causing an erratic heartbeat that led to his death — an argument the court rejected.

Ruling for the plaintiffs, the court said: “With (Suraj) gagged with a towel and forced into a slouching posture, he experienced grave breathing difficulties and died of suffocation.”

The court, however, awarded far less in damages than the plaintiffs sought. The ruling pointed out that prior to March 2010 Suraj had foiled a deportation attempt by “screaming” and “clinging firmly to an airport pillar.”

During the second deportation attempt, Suraj likewise remained defiant, the ruling said. He reportedly refused to board the jet and expressed the intention to be disobedient, even suggesting he wanted to kill himself.

Suraj, therefore, was “gravely at fault” for causing the officials to restrain him, it said. The court also calculated the compensation based on what Suraj would have earned in Ghana, not in Japan, as demanded by the plaintiffs.

Jotaro Kato, a representative of the group Asian People’s Friendship who has fought tirelessly for Suraj’s family, nonetheless lauded the court ruling as a trailblazing acknowledgment of the human rights of foreign deportees.

“We would like to keep a close eye on how seriously immigration will take this ruling to change its attitude toward foreigners in the right direction,” Kato said.

  • Dan

    “The court also calculated the compensation based on what Suraj would have earned in Ghana, not in Japan” I suppose the retribution portion was also based on how much they would`ve had to pay in Ghana and not Japan as well.

    • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

      I wonder if that works in reverse too.

      How about if you come from a U.S state where pot is legal? No jail for you. Just smoke it openly in the middle of Roppongi.

      The sad part is “would have earned”. That’s what a man, especially a foreign man, especially a non-American black man’s life is worth: how much of a provider he could have continued to be. Otherwise, society recognizes no value whatsoever to this man’s life.

      I would say that there is a lesson to be learned here, that officials need to have specific guidelines and training (assuming gagging someone with a random towel is not the training and guidelines), except there is no excuse. Why?

      Because they failed to deport him the first time. It’s clear they needed to re-evaluate how to handle belligerents. The lesson was there to be learned then. They didn’t learn it. This makes them and their handlers especially culpable.

  • sanda

    So killing an overstayer is not criminal prosecution anymore in this country?

  • Franz Pichler

    As much as the UK in the Mubenga case All G4S staff involved walked free.

  • Franz Pichler

    The fact that it went to court, the fact that the verdict was in favor of the illegal immigrant, the fact that damages were awarded proof clearly that this is not a third world country but one based on the law. As for “not putting them in jail” just think of the Mubenga case in the UK and hunderts more in teh US ever year……

  • Barrie Collins

    Put the guards in jail.

  • Franz Pichler

    And let’s not forget first world Australia … Interns their immigrants on Papua New Guinea or on an Islam in the middle of nowhere….

  • Yo Han

    Of course not, how can this be murder? Are you serious? You could accuse them maybe of involuntary manslaughter but surely not of murder.

  • Christopher Johnson

    Police arrest 10 over “illegal casino” tied to Ghana embassy, which was probably hurting nobody. Police make no arrests of 10 involved with killing man from Ghana. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/03/20/national/police-arrest-10-over-illegal-casino-linked-to-ghanaian-envoy/

  • Christopher Johnson

    “The court also calculated the compensation based on what Suraj would have earned in Ghana, not in Japan, as demanded by the plaintiffs.” So the court totally dismisses the fact that Suraj spent most of his adult life working for Japanese in Japan, not for Ghanaians in Ghana. If Ghanaians murder a Japanese man working in Ghana, should they pay compensation based on the years the man never worked/lived in Japan?