Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.
The government continued to deny death-row inmates advance information about the date of execution and notified family members of executions after the fact. The government held that this policy spared prisoners the anguish of knowing when they were going to die. Some respected psychologists supported this reasoning; others demurred.
Authorities also regularly hold prisoners condemned to death in solitary confinement until their execution but allowed visits by family, lawyers, and others. The length of such solitary confinement varied from case to case and may extend for several years. Prisoners accused of crimes that could lead to the death penalty were also held in solitary confinement before trial, according to a nongovernmental organization (NGO) source.
National Public Safety Commission regulations prohibit police from touching suspects (unless unavoidable), exerting force, threatening them, keeping them in fixed postures for long periods, verbally abusing them, or offering them favors in return for a confession. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations asserted that authorities continued illegal or undue interrogations in some cases.
The Ministry of Defense reported on October 19 that it disciplined 114 members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) from April 2017 through March 2018 for arbitrarily punishing other JSDF members, stating the Ministry of Defense and JSDF will continue to take measures to prevent recurrences.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions generally met international standards, although some lacked adequate medical care and sufficient heating in the winter or cooling in the summer, and some facilities were overcrowded.
Physical Conditions: The Ministry of Justice reported that as of the end of 2016 (most recent data available), one (a women’s prison) of 76 prison facilities was beyond capacity. Authorities held juveniles younger than age 20 separately from adults in prisons and regular detention centers.
A male inmate died of heatstroke on July 24 in Nagoya Prison during a heat wave that saw record high temperatures. There was no air conditioner in his cell. The Justice Ministry stated on July 27 that all correctional institutions were taking proper counterheatstroke measures. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations called on the Ministry of Justice in August to install air conditioners immediately in most prisons that lacked them to protect the life of inmates.
In most institutions, extra clothing and blankets provided instead of heating were insufficient to protect inmates against cold weather, according to some local NGOs. Foreign prisoners in the Tokyo area continued to present chilblains-affected fingers and toes of varying severity resulting from long-term exposure to cold.
From April 2016 through March 2017, independent inspection committees documented abusive language by prison officers toward inmates, as well as inadequate medical treatment and sanitation. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2017 the number of doctors working for correctional institutions increased by 21 to 275, but remained more than 20 percent short of the full staffing level. Police and prison authorities were slow to provide treatment for mental illness and have no protocol for offering psychiatric therapy. Foreign observers also noted that dental care was minimal, and access to end-of-life comfort or palliative care was lacking.
Administration: While authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of allegations of problematic conditions, they provided the results of such investigations to prisoners in a letter offering little detail beyond a final determination. While there was no prison ombudsman, independent committees (see below, “Independent Monitoring”) played the role of an ombudsman.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed visits by NGOs and international organizations.
Prison management regulations stipulate that independent committees inspect prisons and detention centers operated by the Ministry of Justice and detention facilities operated by police. Authorities permitted the committees, which include physicians, lawyers, local municipal officials, and local citizens, to interview detainees without the presence of prison officers.
By law third-party inspection committees also inspected immigration detention facilities, and their recommendations generally received serious consideration.
Domestic and international NGOs and international organizations continued to note that this process failed to meet international prison inspection standards. As evidence, they cited the Justice Ministry’s control of all logistical support for the inspection committees, the use of ministry interpreters during interviews with detainees, and a lack of transparency about the composition of the committees.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Civil society organizations reported on ethnic profiling and surveillance of foreign Muslims by the police, according to the August report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The National Public Safety Commission, a cabinet-level entity, oversees the National Police Agency (NPA), and prefectural public safety commissions have responsibility for local police forces. The government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. Some NGOs criticized local public safety commissions for lacking independence from or sufficient authority over police agencies.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Authorities apprehended persons openly with warrants based on evidence and issued by a duly authorized official and brought detainees before an independent judiciary.
The law allows detainees, their families, or representatives to request that the court release an indicted detainee on bail. Bail is not available prior to indictment. NGOs stated that, although the practice is illegal, interrogators sometimes offered shortened or suspended sentences to a detainee in exchange for a confession.
Suspects in pretrial detention are legally required to face interrogation. NPA guidelines limit interrogations to a maximum of eight hours and prohibit overnight interrogations. Preindictment detainees have access to counsel, including at least one consultation with a court-appointed attorney, if required; counsel, however, is not allowed to be present during interrogations.
The law allows police to prohibit detainees from meeting with persons other than counsel and a consular officer (in the case of foreign detainees) if there is probable cause to believe that the suspect may flee or may conceal or destroy evidence (see section 1.d., Pretrial Detention). Many detainees, including most charged with drug offenses, were subject to this restriction before indictment, although some were permitted visits from family members in the presence of a detention officer. There is no legal connection between the type of offense and the length of time authorities may deny a detainee visits by family or others. Those detained on drug charges, however, were often denied such visits longer than other suspects, since prosecutors worried that communications with family or others could interfere with investigations.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations continued to allege that suspects confessed under duress, mainly during unrecorded interrogations, calling for recording entire interrogations for all cases. Prosecutors’ offices and police increasingly recorded entire interrogations for heinous criminal cases, cases involving suspects with intellectual or mental disabilities, and other cases on a trial basis; however, recording was not mandatory, and there was no independent oversight of this practice.
Police inspection offices imposed disciplinary actions against some violators of interrogation guidelines, although the NPA did not release related statistics.
Pretrial Detention: Authorities usually held suspects in police-operated detention centers for an initial 72 hours prior to indictment. By law such detention is allowed only when there is probable cause to suspect that a person has committed a crime and is likely to conceal or destroy evidence or flee, but it was used routinely. After interviewing a suspect at the end of the initial 72-hour period, a judge may extend preindictment custody for up to two consecutive 10-day periods. Prosecutors routinely sought and received these extensions. Prosecutors may also apply for an additional five-day extension in exceptional cases, such as insurrection, foreign aggression, or violent public assembly.
Because judges customarily granted prosecutors’ requests for extensions, pretrial detention, known as daiyou kangoku (substitute prison), usually continued for 23 days. NGOs reported the practice of detaining suspects in daiyou kangoku continued. NGOs and foreign observers continued to report that access to persons other than their attorneys and, in the case of foreign arrestees, consular personnel, was denied to some persons in daiyou kangoku. Nearly all persons detained during the year were held in daiyou kangoku. Beyond daiyou kangoku, extended pretrial detention of foreign detainees was a problem; examples included one person held more than 27 months (as of September) and several held for more than a year without trial. In these cases, prosecutors changed multiple times, trial dates were rescheduled and delayed, and prosecutors continued to request “additional time” to investigate matters that, according to the defendant’s counsel, did not warrant the trial’s further delay or additional preparatory pretrial meetings, which are common for jury system cases.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The law provides the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but NGOs and lawyers continued to question whether they were in fact presumed innocent during the legal process. On October 3, the Hiroshima High Court’s Okayama Branch acquitted a woman who was indicted in 2017 for property damage, stating there was no proof of the crime and dismissing a witness’s testimony as unreliable. The accused woman later told a media outlet the police and prosecutors had forced her to confess to the false accusation. The government continued to assert convictions were not based primarily on confessions and that interrogation guidelines stipulate that suspects may not be compelled to confess to a crime.
Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them. Each charged individual has the right to a trial without undue delay (although foreign observers noted trials may be delayed indefinitely for mentally ill prisoners, and extended pretrial detention of foreign detainees was a problem); to access to defense counsel, including an attorney provided at public expense if indigent; and, to cross-examine witnesses. There is a lay-judge (jury) system for serious criminal cases, and defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves. Authorities provided free interpretation services to foreign defendants in criminal cases. Foreign defendants in civil cases must pay for interpretation, although a judge may order the plaintiff to pay the charges in accordance with a court’s final decision.
Defendants have the right to appoint their own counsel to prepare a defense, present evidence, and appeal. The court may assist defendants in finding an attorney through a bar association. Defendants may request a court-appointed attorney at state expense if they are unable to afford one.
According to some independent legal scholars, trial procedures favor the prosecution. Observers said a prohibition against defense counsel’s use of electronic recording devices during interviews with clients undermined counsel effectiveness. The law also does not require full disclosure by prosecutors unless the defending attorney satisfies difficult disclosure procedure conditions, which could lead to the suppression of material favorable to the defense.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. Individuals have access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. There are both administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs.
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.