10 cases of torture and abuse in interrogation by the substitute prison system in Japan

“Substitute prison system” is very unique Japanese judicial system to detain a suspect into a police cell for further questioning even after deciding which detention house the suspect is transported.

The ground that Japanese detention system is said to be “substitute prison system” can be referred to the Prison Law, clause 3, article 1, “a police cell belonging to a police station can be substitute for a prison.”

The prison law was replaced by “Act on Penal Detention Facilities and the Treatment of Inmates and Detainees” that was put in force in 2006. After this, the prison law was abolished and the words of “prison” was all replaced by “penal institutions”.

Nevertheless, Japan Federation of Bar Association dares to use “Substitute prison” to express the current detention system because “substitute prison” simply represent the problems of human rights violation by injurious suspect’s restriction. Even if the word of “substitute prison” is erased from the current law, we still have the problem of “substitute prison” that restricts suspects in a police cell even after notice of detention.

“Substitute prison” has been not just against the basis of criminal justice that an arrested suspect shall never be returned back to a detective after being sent to a judicial authority, but also a hotbed of human rights violation and false accusation for long time .

“Substitute prison” is an old-fashioned system that other advanced country has abolished a long time ago. Japan is disgracefully symbolized as the country of human rights backwater. If a detective institution restricts suspects with higher discretion, a harmful effect is caused like the above. So it is quite common to separate a detective institution from a detention house in the world.

In fact, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) regulates in clause 3, article 9 that a suspect questioned about a crime and detained by the police shall be taken to a judge very soon and never be returned back to a detective institution after that. In terms of this principle, the Metropolitan Police Department of Japan made excuses that it had solved this abuse by separating detention management section from the detective section to the general affairs section but this is only division of duties in the same police department in the long run and there is no effective to protect a suspect. In fact, there have been so many incidents of human rights violation by the substitute prison system since after 1980.

A number of human rights organizations such as Amnesty international and International Bar Association (IBA) have responded with sharp criticism against the Japanese substitute prison system already 10 years ago. International Commission on Human Rights has also been demanding repeatedly from the Japanese government that the substitute prisons system shall conform to the International Covenant on Human Rights Standard.

In 2007, the United Nations Convention against Torture sent contents of requests about abolition of the substitute prisons system, setting the maximum period of detention by the police, which conforms to the international standard and separating detention from criminal investigation completely by reforming “Act on Penal Detention Facilities and the Treatment of Inmates and Detainees”. Japan was counseled by Algeria, Belgium , British and Canada through inspection of human rights situation in Japan at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in terms of the substitute prison and interrogation in May, 2008.

In 2008, the summary of opinion adopted in the United nations Human Rights Council demanded clear requests to Japan that Japan shall abolish the substitute prison system and criticized severely, “it is regrettable that the Japanese government still justifies the use of the substitute prison on the grounds that available resources are insufficient and this system is effective to operate criminal investigation”.

In addition, the United Nations Convention against Torture adopted the summary of opinion in terms of periodic reports by the Japanese Government in 2013. This summary of opinion also indicated serious concern about the substitute prison system and demanded the request to the Japanese government to set the maximum period of detention by the police and consider abolition of the substitute prison system to make legal affairs and investigation affairs correspond to the international standard.

As above, “the substitute prison system” was warned by the United Nations repeatedly. This system is ashamed enough not to satisfy the international human rights standard.

Famous 4 capital punishment retrials (Menda case, Zaitagawa case, Matsuyama case, Shimada case) in Japan was originally caused by confession squeezed out of suspects by taking advantage of the substitute prison system.

These cases are not only the reason that the period of time was shortly after the war. Even in 1980, when the National Police Department of Japan separated detention management section from investigation section, a number of problems were caused by the substitute prison.

In April, 2003, about 10 suspects were arrested on suspicion of election violation when Kagoshima prefecture assembly elections. Arrested and detained people were sent to police cells and most of them got the third degree for long hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The way of interrogation was quite unbearably harsh. For example, the detectives were shouting tone from beginning to end and shouted abuse at suspects, “don’t tell a lie”, “I will put you on gallows” as they kicked and struck the desk, and forced suspects to keep both of hands on desk over many hours. Sometimes they deceived and badgered suspects with leading questions.

After all, the judgement of innocence was delivered to all 12 suspects at the Kagoshima district court in February, 2007 and prosecutors gave up making a final appeal and 12 suspects’ acquittal became final and binding.

Likewise, in 2007, a man who was sentenced as guilty and had already served his time for two years as an offender of a rape incident occurred in 2002, turned out to be innocent because the real culprit was exposed two years later. He got the persistent third degree from a detective and was forced to say only “yes” to all the questions he was asked and to give recognition to an incident as a offender in the substitute prison.

His retrial was accepted at Toyama district court in April, 2007.

The following 10 cases are the ones that Japanese police officers coerced a false confession from suspects by taking advantage of the substitute prison system.

Coercing a false confession violently

This is the case that two men conspired together and possessed 700 grams of stimulant drugs. A district court rejected both offenders’ confession record from Osaka police department on the grounds that the fact that two suspects were offered awful continuous violence from investigators could be recognized. Both suspects insisted that they were quite awful violence from police officers. The police side denied and explained it was needed to control suspects going crazy. They were found innocent after all.

In April, 2003, some police officers trampled and held down a suspect with both wrists and both ankles bound during questioning. In addition, even though a suspect complained of being in chest pain repeatedly and asked for seeing a doctor, police officers left a suspect for about a week.

Coercing a false confession by giving favors.

In 1994, police officers in charge gave favors to a suspect in the police cells in Nagata police station like allowing suspects to smoke, giving a suspect a betting ticket, treating suspects to sushi dinner in a interrogation room, holding a drinking party in the police cell, bringing a woman prisoner from one of the other cells and allowing the suspects to have intercourse with each other.

A prosecutor rejected the request for interrogation without proving arbitrariness of the lawyer side about the confession records that the lawyer took objection on the process of interrogation.

A police officer got a false confession of theft from a suspect that he knew nothing in return for the promise not to investigate the Yakuza’s office that a suspect used to belong to, to allow him to send two letters a day to his relatives and to take care of his relatives’ foods. A police officer broke the promise after all. When a suspect protested against police officer’s unfaithfulness, a police officer punched suspect’s side and back strongly.

Coercing a false confession with fabrication

In 2004, at Azuma police station, a detective leaked the suspect’s condition and information to other prisoners like “he still has other crimes. I am ready to interrogate him over a long period of time unless he confesses himself”, “I am going to arrest him again”, “He will get a prison sentence at a court”. He purposely spread such rumors among prisoners to reach suspect’s ear and conducted a conspiracy to make a suspect confess voluntarily.

A false accusation of molestation incident occurred at Totsuka police station in 2000. A staff of the personnel department of the company that a suspect worked for, came to see and forced a suspect to sign on request for resignation under surveillance of 5 to 6 guards. He requested lawyer’s attendance, who came to an interview halfway but a guard rejected this request because lawyer’s attendance had nothing to do with it.

When interrogation, unfounded facts he has never knew and told were being put on record as he was shouted abuse by a detective. In addition, he was put pressure by other prisoners who repeatedly told him it was impossible to overturn a false accusation.

He was founded innocent and got back to the same company.

Coercing a false confession by interrogation for long hours

In 2002, a district court decided to transfer a suspect from Tsu police station to a detention house under the control of the Ministry of Justice because detective’s interrogation at Tsu police station was in danger of coercing a false confession to a suspect from the following points.

  • A suspect changed his statement from the first confession.
  • A suspect denied the questioned facts at all.
  • The interrogation took extremely long hours. It started in the early morning and finished it at 12:20 a.m.
  • A suspect told a lawyer the facts that he was asked a leading question and a detective in charge skillfully trespassed on his emotional weakness like a detective said soothingly to a suspect, “You need to get it together, otherwise your family will get in trouble. I’m going to let you contact to your mother if you’ve got something to tell her and I am somehow going to take care of the documents of your civil suit, otherwise your house will be gone in a foreclosure. Instead, you are going to write on this petition that you murdered Mr. ○○”.

Coercing a false confession by giving mental distress

The case of a false accusation of molestation incident occurred in the area within the jurisdiction of Miyakojima Police station in February, 2002. A detective tried to extract confession forcibly from a suspect with a shouting manner . A detective made reference to the fact his son was dead by an accident 3 years ago like “your son’s apparition is attending here as well. You should tell the truth shortly”, and fed a suspect a line about a plea agreement like “if you accept this molestation incident, you can get out of here soon at 100,000 to 150,000 yen. However, if you don’t accept this, we need to detain you here as long as you deny the fact.” He was finally founded innocent.

3 men trespassed into the residence of Self Defense Force for the purpose of delivering anti-war bills. They were arrested and prosecuted on suspicion of trespassing.

After detention, they were restricted to see people other than their lawyers and became in a mentally tight spot because of keeping silence. A detective shouted abuse at one of the three suspects like “you’re such a wily bitch with split personality! You’re a damned parasite and You‘ re nothing more than a fu○○ing dirty beggar.” and told a lie to extract confession like “I will put every single responsibility on only you”. They were founded innocent in the first trial and founded paying penalty in the second trial. They are now making a final appeal.

Act of obscenity

During interrogation of the stimulant drug incident, a detective committed sexual harassment to a woman suspect. a lieutenant officer belonging to the organized crime section of the Metropolitan Police Department was accused of Abuse of Authority by Public Officials by Tokyo district court. Tokyo district court stated ,“this is extraordinary shameless crime and unjustifiable case”, and sentenced him to three years imprisonment.



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