A 31-year-old former Nagoya Prison inmate who was allegedly abused by guards last year during his incarceration says he still suffers physical aftereffects as well as trauma from the violence.
The man’s case, along with that of a 49-year-old inmate who was fatally abused at the same prison in May 2002, triggered intense public concerns over the human rights situation inside the nation’s penitentiaries, prompting the Justice Ministry to form a panel of experts to probe the issue and to pledge sweeping correctional policy reforms.
The man, now released, took part in a public symposium Monday in Tokyo. Although he wants to remain anonymous, he did not hide his face; organizers asked the media not to photograph him.
Last October, Nagoya Prison admitted the man sustained severe abdominal injuries the previous month and another inmate had died from such wounds in May 2002 after guards constrained them with a controversial leather restraint that includes handcuffs and a tight cinch around the stomach.
Shortly after these abuses were revealed, it was learned that another inmate at the prison was killed in December 2001 by guards who sprayed a high-pressure fire hose in his anus.
These abuses led to eight guards being put on trial.
During the symposium, organized by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and local associations in Tokyo, the man said he still suffers intestinal obstructions caused by the repeated use of the leather device, which the guards had tightly cinched as punishment.
“The pain still kills me every time I eat,” the man said, adding he still needs to frequently see doctors and take medicine daily.
He said he was recently diagnosed as suffering posttraumatic stress disorder from the abuse, which brings on a panic attack every time he puts on a belt, attaches a seat belt or any other item that can be associated with the restraining device.
“I break out in a sweat and my face drains of color in fear every time I put on a seat belt,” he said, “because it reminds me of the pain.”
The man suspects he angered the guards in April 2002 when he sent petitions to then Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama and the Nagoya Bar Association, asking for protection from “inappropriate” punishment at the prison. His entreaties never reached Moriyama.
The man said he was later told by a prison official that the petitions were in vain, and that he should keep quiet if he hoped to be freed on probation.
When he didn’t comply, the guards put him in the leather restraint on Sept. 12, 2002, accusing him of “refusing to open my mouth wide enough” during a daily oral cavity check, he said.
Over the following eight days, he was bound up again six times and placed in a padded “protection chamber” for hours on end, each successive time having the restraint cinched tighter.
On one occasion, he recalled, the guards forced him first to drink several cups of tea, apparently to cause more pain once he was put in the device.
That Sept. 25, the man claimed, he was again tightly restrained and the guards kicked and beat him after he refused to withdraw his petition to the bar association, which had planned to interview him the following day and investigate his allegations.
“I could hardly breathe. I soon lost feeling in my legs,” he said, adding that he spat up blood and eventually passed out from the pain.
“If medical staff at the prison had not come (to the chamber) to help, I probably would have died just like the prisoner in May,” he said.
The man suffered intestinal damage that required three weeks of hospital treatment.
Prosecutors claimed during the guards’ trials that they cinched the restraint so tightly that it cut deep into his abdomen.
Six of the seven guards accused of assaulting the inmate have pleaded innocent, claiming the man injured himself by staggering and falling on the floor of the padded chamber.
The man condemned this claim, saying Moriyama acknowledged the device was used on him “in an illegal manner” in a letter he received from her while he was in a prison hospital.
“I am glad my case triggered the current scrutiny and efforts to reform the prison system,” he said. “Either through the guards’ trial or (the Justice Ministry’s) reforms, authorities should fully take into account the problems that I suffered while behind bars.”
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