'Hostage justice'? Japan fights back with an internet FAQ


  • World
  • Tuesday, 21 Jan 2020

FILE PHOTO: Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn gestures during a news conference at the Lebanese Press Syndicate in Beirut, Lebanon January 8, 2020. Picture taken January 8, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan on Tuesday published a list defending how it treats people accused of crimes, the latest move in its struggle to counter accusations of "hostage justice" after ex-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn's dramatic escape to Lebanon.

The 3,000-word list of 14 questions and answers on the Justice Ministry's home page, in English and Japanese, addresses Japan's conviction rate of more than 99 percent and why lawyers aren't present during questioning.

Ghosn, who was free on bail, fled over the New Year holidays as he was awaiting trial on charges such as under-reporting income - which he denies. He said he had no choice but to run and that he felt "like the hostage of a country I served for 17 years."

His complaints were echoed by Australian sports journalist Scott McIntyre, who was detained in the same centre as Ghosn for 44 days on trespassing charges after he tried to get information on his missing children.

McIntyre said the lights were on 24 hours a day, making it impossible to sleep more than an hour each night, and that several of his fellow detainees told him they would confess to crimes they had not committed to shorten their time there.

Both cases have drawn foreign attention to Japan's criminal justice system and put its government on the defensive, with Justice Minister Masako Mori at one point saying Ghosn's accusations were "intolerable."

"Japanese detention centres maintain detention rooms appropriately ... The rooms are structured so as to allow sufficient natural light and ensure good airflow," the Ministry said on its website. "Access to bathing is granted to detainees at least twice a week in order to keep them in good health."

In its global report this month, Human Rights Watch criticised what it called Japan's "'hostage' justice system."

"Criminal suspects are held for long periods in harsh conditions to coerce a confession," it said, adding that the situation received renewed attention after Ghosn's arrest.

One of the longest answers on the ministry's website, at 325 words, was a response to "Isn't it fair to describe Japan's justice system as one of 'hostage justice?'"

"To the contrary, the Japanese criminal justice system does not force confessions by unduly holding suspects and defendants in custody. It is therefore not accurate at all to criticise the system as being a 'hostage justice' system," it said.

"In Japan, there are strict requirements and procedures stipulated in law with regard to holding suspects and defendants in custody, with due consideration given to the guarantee of human rights."

(Reporting by Elaine Lies. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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