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Japanese authorities have long relied on confessions to take suspects to court instead of building cases on solid evidence — a practice human rights groups have criticized for leading to abuses of due process and convictions of innocent people.

The New York Times brought this to public attention in the United States with a front-page article Friday about a vote-buying case in the town of Shibushi, Kagoshima Prefecture, in which suspects were subjected to repeated interrogations and months of pretrial detention.

In all, 13 men and women were arrested and indicted. One man died during the trial — from the stress, the others said — and another tried to kill himself.

And yet all were acquitted this year by a district court, which found that their confessions had been entirely fabricated. The presiding judge was quoted as saying the defendants had “made confessions in despair while going through marathon questioning.”

Developments in this and two other recent cases “have shown just how far the authorities will go in securing confessions,” the N.Y. Times said. The U.S. paper cited murder and rape cases in Saga and Toyama prefectures.

In Saga Prefecture in March, a high court upheld the acquittal of a man who said he was coerced into confessing to killing three women in the late 1980s. In Toyama Prefecture, police acknowledged early this year that a taxi driver who had served almost three years in prison for rape and attempted rape in 2002 was innocent after they found the real culprit. The driver said he had been browbeaten into affixing his fingerprint to a confession drawn up by the police after three days of interrogation.

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