The Tokyo District Court ruled in favor of the family of a Ghanian national who died while in the custody of Japanese immigration officials last March 2010. The court ordered that the family should be compensated to the tune of 5 million yen (approx. US$49,000), which is significantly lower than the 136 million yen ($1.33 million) they were asking for.
45-year-old Abubakar Awudu Suraj died at the Narita International Airport while he was waiting for the plane which was deporting him to Cairo because he overstayed his visa. Immigration officials had his legs restrained with handcuffs which were locked to his belt, while his mouth was gagged with a towel. He suffocated to death when they asked him to “bend over in a tight bundle”. Officials claim they had to use force to restrain him because he resisted boarding the plane. They used as evidence a video taken by one of the officials showing several personnel carrying him towards the plane. They also argued that he died because of a pre-existing heart condition. The 10 immigration officials were not charged in the man’s death, which led his widow, a Japanese citizen, to file a civil lawsuit against them and demanded for an explanation as to why he died in their custody.
The court rejected their defense and Judge Hisaki Kobayashi said that their actions were excessive and illegal and “beyond what was necessary or appropriate.” The Justice Ministry will compensate both the widow and his mother who’s living in Ghana. “I feel less resentful after the court recognised the illegality of what the immigration officials did,” the widow said. This is considered a landmark ruling because it’s the first time a Japanese court has ordered immigration officials to compensate the family of a foreigner who died due to mistreatment by the government. It has also forced the media to look at the discrimination problems against foreigners in the country, particularly the harsh treatment they endure from immigration officials at immigration detention centers.
[ via South China Morning Post ]