A total of 923 former Hansen’s disease patients filed a lawsuit against the state Monday, demanding it pay them 115 million yen each in compensation for forcing them into isolation to undergo treatment for the disease.
The suit brings the number of plaintiffs suing the state at district courts in Kumamoto, Okayama and Tokyo in connection with the case to about 1,700, which accounts for about 40 percent of those still living in state-run sanitariums built decades ago, lawyers said.
The move is apparently in protest over the government’s plan to seek an out-of-court settlement after appealing a May 11 ruling by the Kumamoto District Court ordering the state to pay compensation to former Hansen’s disease patients, the lawyers said.
“We keep calling on the state to abandon its plan to appeal the ruling,” a lawyer said.
Meanwhile, more than 100 former patients and a group of lawyers representing former patients visited the Prime Minister’s Official Residence on Monday afternoon, asking for a meeting with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and demanding that the government not appeal the ruling.
After being refused a meeting with Koizumi, the former patients and their lawyers remained outside the residence for several hours demanding to speak with the prime minister.
Koizumi told reporters Monday evening that he will consider whether a meeting should be arranged later.
In a related development, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda indicated Monday afternoon that the government will seek an out-of-court settlement after appealing the case.
“The government has recognized that further medical and welfare measures should be taken, even if the government appeals the case,” the top government spokesman told a regular news conference.
Fukuda also said that the government has to be careful in handling the ruling, which has wide ramifications for national policies and administration.
In a separate statement, also on Monday, Fukuda said that the government will formally decide Wednesday whether to appeal the court ruling, according to government officials.
Fukuda made the remark at a meeting of executives from the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, including LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki, they said. The deadline for filing an appeal is Friday.
The Kumamoto court ordered the state to pay 1.82 billion yen in compensation to 127 former Hansen’s disease patients who claimed their human rights were violated when they were forced into isolation under the now-defunct Leprosy Prevention Law.
The court backed the plaintiffs’ claim that the state was wrong to maintain the prewar isolation policy in formulating the 1953 law, as it was known then that the disease is not highly contagious and medication to cure it had been developed in the 1940s.
Following the ruling, lawyers representing former patients visited 13 state-run sanitariums where more than 4,400 former Hansen’s disease patients still live because they find it difficult to re-enter society, and told the former patients they will file another lawsuit against the state.
The former patients have been strongly urging the state not to appeal the Kumamoto ruling. They say continuation of the suit would only mean further violations of the basic human rights of the plaintiffs, who are now over 74 on average.
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