• Kyodo

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A man wrongfully imprisoned for rape walked free after serving 3½ years of a 12-year sentence.

The Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office found the man, who has not been named publicly, was likely framed by the victim and witnesses. They have confessed to lying in court.

Prosecutors reopened the case after the man called for a retrial. They questioned the victim and witnesses, who admitted that testimony they had submitted to the court was false. Prosecutors said they found additional evidence supporting their admission.

The man was arrested and charged with sexual assaulting a woman in Osaka in November 2004 and April 2008, and for molesting her in July 2008, the prosecutors office said. He received a 12-year prison sentence in 2011, but submitted the request for a retrial to the Osaka District Court in September.

The prosecutors office issued a written statement supporting his protestation of innocence, based on the new evidence.

It’s rare for someone serving a prison sentence in Japan to be released before a court decides to conduct a retrial. The last such case occurred in 2009, when a man wrongfully convicted in a series of murders of young girls in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, between 1979 and 2005 was freed after serving 17 years in prison.

Osaka Deputy Public Prosecutor Kentaro Kitagawa said the fact that witnesses had lied was enough to release the man.

“We judged that (this) can be regarded as clear new evidence to overturn the court’s decision and recognize him as not guilty,” Kitagawa said. “We regret that the case turned out like this.”

He stopped short of saying whether prosecutors would apologize to the man.

Prosecutors say the original ruling was based heavily on the testimony of the victim and purported witnesses, despite the man’s declaration of innocence. The man’s name and age, as well as details of the ruling and the nature of evidence presented at trial, have not been disclosed due to privacy concerns, at the request of his lawyer.

Legal experts have voiced concern over the fact that most rape cases are investigated with heavy weighting on the testimony of alleged victims.

Recent court decisions have rejected some rape cases due to unreliable testimony by the alleged victims.

In September 2012, the Yokohama District Court threw out a rape case against a man in his 30s, saying testimony by the alleged victim, a high school-aged girl, was not credible. In March 2011, the Osaka District Court found a man in his 40s not guilty of assaulting a girl, for the same reason. Both suspects had denied the charges.

“Especially in sex crimes, many suspects tend to be declared guilty with force,” said Tadashi Isobe, a campaigner who supported taxi driver Hiroshi Yanagihara after he was falsely convicted for rape in Himi, Toyama Prefecture. “Although it is difficult to comment on the case because I don’t know the specific facts, I am glad to see that prosecutors are examining their own actions.”

Yanagihara was sentenced to three years in prison and was released on parole after serving two years, when another man confessed to the crime in 2002. Yanagihara was found not guilty in a retrial.

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