• Kyodo

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Fifteen Chinese men who were forced to work in coal mines here during World War II appealed a lower court ruling Thursday at the Fukuoka High Court that ordered Mitsui Mining Co. — but not the government — to pay them compensation.

The plaintiffs had demanded a total of 345 million yen in compensation from the central government and the Tokyo-based mining company.

“The government’s immunity cannot be accepted,” a lawyer for the plaintiffs said, “and we cannot stand without their apology.”

The lawyer said the plaintiffs’ legal team will cooperate with other lawyers working on similar damages suits and keep pushing until the government admits its responsibility in the case.

On April 26, the Fukuoka District Court ordered Mitsui Mining to pay 165 million yen in compensation to the 15 men.

Presiding Judge Motoaki Kimura’s ruling, which awarded 11 million yen to each plaintiff, was the first in Japan to acknowledge the liability of a company and the government over wartime slave labor.

But Kimura rejected the plaintiffs’ demand for government compensation, upholding the defendant’s assertion that the Constitution of the Empire of Japan spared the government from having to compensate those damaged by the exercise of state power. The Meiji Constitution was in effect between 1890 and 1947.

Mitsui Mining has also filed an appeal against the lower court ruling.

An estimated 40,000 Chinese were captured by the Japanese military during the war and forcibly brought to Japan, where they were made to work in an extremely harsh environment in coal mines and harbors. They were given little food and were often unpaid. Some 7,000 of the slave laborers died due to the severe conditions and overwork, according to the plaintiffs.

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