- - Monday, June 25, 2012

TORONTO — Foreign residents in Japan are calling for justice and equality after a Tokyo court this month released from prison a Nepalese man who had been wrongly convicted of murder 15 years ago.

Japanese immigration officials immediately detained and deported Govinda Mainali, 45, for overstaying his visa after the Tokyo High Court ruled that new DNA evidence cleared him of involvement in a 1997 murder for which he had been imprisoned.

Human rights activists said Japanese authorities moved quickly to deport Mr. Mainali to deter him from seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. They are demanding that Japan compensate him, overhaul the country’s justice system, and punish prosecutors and judges. The conviction rate for suspects tops 99 percent with foreigners at particular risk, critics say.

“The Mainali case is proof once again that there are two systems of justice in Japan: one for Japanese, one for foreigners,” says Debito Arudou, a U.S.-born rights activist.

“Once the public prosecutor has a foreigner in his grip, that means indefinite incarceration without habeas corpus or bail. Even if judged innocent in court, prosecutors usually appeal and foreigners are still jailed.”

Gopal Krishna Siwakoti, a Nepalese human rights activist, called the case the “trial of the century in terms of migrant workers,” and an example of how a “xenophobic attitude was entrenched in Japanese judicial system.”

The newspaper Nikkan Gendai called prosecutors “sore losers” who are more interested in saving face than human rights.

Even so-called “Japan apologists” have spoken out against “induced confessions,” harsh imprisonment and costly deportation of more than 100,000 foreigners over the past decade.

“The fact is that a foreigner falling afoul of the Japanese legal system doesn’t have a hope in hell of getting a fair trial,” foreign entrepreneur Terrie Lloyd wrote in his magazine Japan Inc. “Reading about his case makes you feel like we’re living in an emerging economy in the Middle East rather than a first-world country like Japan.”

At a Tokyo press conference last Tuesday, Justice Minister Makoto Taki denied that Mr. Mainali was mistreated in jail.

Mr. Mainali, a restaurant worker in Tokyo’s Shibuya entertainment district, was arrested in 1997 for overstaying his student visa by three years. Police later charged him with strangling Yasuko Watanabe, 39, an economist for the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and an alleged prostitute.

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper last week reported that a chief police investigator wrote in his diary: “A Nepalese man who lives in a neighboring building should be found guilty with the circumstantial evidence we have collected.”

Charles McJilton, a Tokyo-based Christian missionary from Minnesota who has visited about 50 foreign prisoners in Japan since the 1990s, said Mr. Mainali wasn’t allowed a lawyer or proper interpreter.

“It was him against all the police and prosecutors. She [the victim] worked for TEPCO, was controversial because she was a prostitute at night, and the police felt they had to get a conviction,” Mr. McJilton said. “They probably believed he would confess to it eventually, but he didn’t.”

Activists say 99 percent of foreign suspects are held in custody and denied bail, compared with 76 percent of Japanese.

“It’s not a system of innocence until proven guilty. If you appear in court, you are supposed to show remorse and take responsibility for the crime,” said Mr. McJilton.

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