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2.02.2010

Japan's Prosecutors Score a Big Win


UN human rights committees and other international observers have called for major changes to Japan’s interrogation procedures for more than a decade, claiming that extended interrogations without the presence of counsel deny fundamental rights. The most commonly proposed remedy is complete recording of interrogations. The DPJ appointee as Minister of Justice is a progressive member of parliament named Keiko Chiba who has called for this reform and many others since she was first elected in the mid-80s. In her inaugural remarks back on September 16, Ms. Chiba announced that implementing recording of interrogations was one of her top three objectives. See my short profile of Ms. Chiba and report on her remarks here.

Needless to say, Japan’s prosecutors saw the Minister’s comments as a declaration of war, an intrusion on the interrogators’ efforts to build rapport with suspects and find the truth. (This is the justification presented by government representatives to international human rights committees.) Black box interrogations produce the confessions universally described as the “king of evidence” in Japan’s criminal prosecutions. Ms. Chiba wants to change all this.

Not so fast, Minister! In their ongoing investigation into the finances of DPJ bigwig Ichiro Ozawa, the prosecutors arrested three of his former aides on Friday, January 15. (One is an elected member of parliament. All three remain in detention as of this writing.) In remarks to the press five days after the arrests, Prime Minister Hatoyama said the government would NOT submit a bill requiring recording of interrogations this year “because there is a possibility this might be seen as a criticism of the prosecutors,” according to the Japanese Asahi report. For an English reference, see here.

By the way, if YOU served as counsel to a suspect under interrogation and you wanted to know what he's spilling, you might be able to read about it in the newspaper. See, e.g., this story. This can’t be procedure envisioned by the drafters of Japan’s Constitution back in 1946 when they stuffed it with so many provisions designed to protect due process.

--Larry Repeta, Tokyo

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