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Saturday, June 3, 2006
Inmate rights bill passed
By MASAMI ITO
The House of Councilors passed a bill Friday that improves the treatment of criminal suspects awaiting trial or sentencing but maintains the controversial police detention centers used to hold suspects prior to indictment.
The bill was passed after a majority led by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito voted over strong protests from the opposition parties and human rights organizations.
The Criminal Procedure Law states that suspects under arrest must be held at detention centers controlled by the Justice Ministry. The century-old former Prison Law, however, allows the detainees to also be placed in police detention centers called "daiyo kangoku," or substitute prisons.
The daiyo kangoku system has been harshly criticized both domestically and internationally as a breeding ground for human rights violations. This problem stems from the fact that no one is watching the watchers, critics say.
"The investigative organization must be completely separated from the facility where the detainee is held," said Makoto Teranaka, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan. "Being placed under police watch 24 hours a day will lead to forced confessions, which are subjective. . . . Without objective evidence, people will be falsely charged with crimes."
While Teranaka stressed the need to abolish the daiyo kangoku system, he acknowledged progress had been made.
The new law mandates that the investigating officers must be separated from those who supervise the detainees.
It also calls on prefectural police to establish third-party panels of regular citizens and lawyers who can listen to detainees who have concerns about treatment.