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FEATURE: 50 yrs on, struggle to seek acquittal in "Sayama Incident" continues.

TOKYO, March 30 Kyodo


For activist lawyer Taketoshi Nakayama, a crusading legal career was almost predestined, having grown up as the son of a human rights campaigner in a household keenly aware of the injustices faced by marginalized members of Japanese society.

"My father required me to memorize the Constitution, particularly the equal-protection Article 14, by posting it on the wall," said Nakayama, 69, who was born into a poor family in a socially disadvantaged "buraku" district in Fukuoka Prefecture.

His father was involved in human rights activism while working as a shoe repairer, and his mother collected disused articles for almost 40 years to support the family.

"We had only limited jobs, such as collection of waste materials and construction work, and I myself faced a variety of discrimination," he said. "But my father expected me to overcome the situation."

Taking high school and college courses by night and working during the day to pay for tuition, he was certified as a lawyer in Tokyo in 1971, and soon encountered a defendant of a notorious murder case, who was also from a "buraku" district.

The defendant, Kazuo Ishikawa, was sentenced to death for killing a 16-year-old female high school student in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture, on May 1, 1963, and appealed the ruling to the Tokyo High Court to seek acquittal.

On the day, a blackmail letter seeking a 200,000 yen ransom was delivered to her home before her body was found three days later. Ishikawa, then a construction assistant, was eventually arrested.

Given numerous doubts over the findings in the ruling, Nakayama joined the defense team for Ishikawa, and eventually became the chief lawyer. Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the murder, widely known as the "Sayama Incident," the efforts of the two men to achieve justice continue.

While Ishikawa maintained his innocence, the high court commuted the death sentence to life in prison, which was finalized by the Supreme Court in 1977. Following the release on bail in December 1994, Ishikawa, now 74, filed a third petition for a retrial with the high court in 2006.

Nakayama's father, who moved to Tokyo from Fukuoka, also worked to prove Ishikawa's innocence until his death in 1986 at the age of 73. "Thus, it is a struggle not only of mine but also of my late father," Nakayama said.

"Police were apparently targeting those living in the 'buraku' district" on prejudgment that it was a breeding ground for crime, and testimonies against Ishikawa "were influenced by such prejudice," Nakayama said. "The courts also convicted him, based on doubtful evidences, without examining the irresponsible investigation."

People in "buraku" districts are descendants of social outcasts from feudal times. They still face discrimination in a variety of areas, including marriage and employment.

Since the latest plea to reopen the case was filed, prosecutors have newly disclosed around 100 items of evidence at the request of the defense, including papers handwritten by Ishikawa following his arrest and tape recordings of his questioning.

Based on the evidence, the defense team has submitted the results of handwriting analysis by experts to the court, which say Ishikawa's handwriting did not match the ransom note delivered to the victim's family.

In the first place, it has been pointed out that Ishikawa could not write an elaborate letter like the ransom note at that time, as he did not complete even an elementary-level education, as he had to work to supplement his family's income.

The defense counsel also plans to conduct psychological evaluation of the recordings with the aim of proving his temporary confession was not made voluntarily and thus untrustworthy.

Ishikawa said he had made the false confession as investigators told him they would instead arrest his elder brother, the breadwinner of his family, if he refused to admit to the charges and that he would be released in 10 years if he pleaded guilty.

Having been involved in petty crime, he believed he had no choice but to serve the term. "I was a roughneck at that time," he said.

Busying himself now with seeking public support for his effort to reopen the case, Ishikawa feels he is still in "invisible handcuffs."

More than 18 years after his release, he is required to meet with a probation officer twice a month and report his whereabouts to the Justice Ministry, while he is still denied the right to vote.

"Such restrictions will continue throughout life unless I'm acquitted," he said.

He does not think, however, he has wasted the past half-century "as I could improve my literacy level in prison. I would have been unable to read and write if I had not been convicted."

His belief is shared by his wife, Sachiko, who is also from a "buraku" district in Tokushima Prefecture and married him on the second anniversary of his release.

"I had concealed my background, but I was changed by his words that discrimination will not be removed as long as victims bear it silently," Sachiko, 66, said. "His way of living has given me energy to live, and it has also influenced many other people. His struggle during the past 50 years has not been wasted."

Nakayama said he had learned from Ishikawa.

"Mr. Ishikawa was an ordinary hoodlum, and I could have been like him," Nakayama said. "But he has changed by learning how to read and write in prison and has acquired self-discipline despite the continuing hardships."

Ishikawa once noted in a letter to Nakayama sent from prison, "I don't resent the fact that I could not get an education, but I have no patience for the authorities who treated me in cruel ways."

Reflecting his awareness of human rights learned from his father and from his involvement in the Sayama Incident, Nakayama is now representing survivors of the Tokyo air raids during World War II in a damages suit against the state.

"We have argued that the state should make reparation not only for military personnel but also for civilian victims of air raids, including war orphans, who were left unattended," Nakayama said, indicating the state's postwar reparation policy violates Article 14 of the Constitution.

It stipulates, "All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin."

The survivors are still suffering the aftereffects and trauma of the air raids, and the average age of the 77 plaintiffs stands at around 80, pushing Nakayama to win a settlement in their favor as quickly as possible.

Ishikawa, for his part, has a dream he wants to fulfill if he is acquitted and can find the time. "I hope to attend a night junior high school, as I have neither elementary nor junior high school diplomas."
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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