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Japan: Drama shows how sloppy interrogation led to false confession

TOKYO - A newly compiled DVD of a drama reenacts how police interrogated a 24-year-old man who was arrested in 1963 over the murder of a 16-year-old female high school student in Sayama, near Tokyo, while claiming his innocence.

The drama was created in line with recorded tapes of the questioning of Kazuo Ishikawa, who eventually became a life-time prisoner and was released on parole in 1994 after spending more than 30 years behind bars.

The tapes were disclosed by prosecutors in 2010 as Ishikawa, now 78, still seeks a retrial over the high-profile murder, known as "the Sayama Case," to be exonerated.

His supporters and lawyers argue the drama shows how an innocent person is driven to make a false confession.

The disclosed 15-hour tapes cover part of the interrogation on June 20-25 in 1963, during which Ishikawa turned to confessing to the crime after consistently denying his involvement for about one month following his arrest.

The 55-minute drama consists of five scenes. In the first scene, three investigators surround Ishikawa to ask him about a blackmail letter, which was delivered to the victim's family on May 1 to seek a 200,000 yen ransom before her body was found three days later.

The interrogators badger him, saying, "It's no mistake that you wrote it, and you are obliged to explain why you did so," while Ishikawa, in handcuffs, responds, "I don't know," or "My answer will not change even if you repeatedly ask me," without the accompaniment of defense lawyers, which is customary in Japan.

In another scene, a police officer, a longtime local acquaintance of Ishikawa's family, has a one-on-one dialogue with Ishikawa, who admitted that he was involved in the murder together with two accomplices.

While Ishikawa refuses to reveal their names, the officer, offering him a cigarette, tells him, "I feel sorry for your family if you bear all the blame by yourself," and "I cannot forgive the remaining two," in an apparent attempt to persuade Ishikawa to speak by taking advantage of their personal connection.

Ishikawa, surprisingly, turned in a few days to saying he was a lone murderer.

Given the changing situations, the acquainted officer struggles again to help Ishikawa remake statements so they will corroborate the evidence that had already been obtained.

Ishikawa, who is at a loss to explain how he killed and buried the victim, asks the officer, "Which is better?" by presenting several scenarios -- a situation that his supporters call "revelation of ignorance," rather than "revelation of a secret."

It is a cooperative work of the officer and Ishikawa to create a murder story that other investigators want to hear, with the officer providing Ishikawa with clues for coherent statements, according to the DVD.

The drama also indicates the interrogators may have been aware that Ishikawa was almost illiterate at that time, making the case by his lawyers that it was impossible for him to write an elaborate letter like the ransom note as he had not completed even an elementary-level education.

Born into an extremely poor family in a socially disadvantaged "buraku" district, Ishikawa had to work from his childhood to support his family's livelihood. People in such districts are descendants of social outcasts from feudal times.

His lawyers and supporters argue that his prosecution was part of the continuous discrimination against people from the "buraku" districts.

Ishikawa eventually learned how to read and write in prison.

The drama was directed by Eizo Yamagiwa, a film director known for the popular Ultra Series depicting fictional superheroes, with financial aid of Ishikawa's supporting group.

"In writing the script and directing the film, I found that the interrogators and Mr. Ishikawa talked past each other," Yamagiwa, also a veteran human rights activist, said. "It is apparent that the two sides had no other choices but accepting a predetermined scenario" that the real culprit is Ishikawa.

Yamagiwa has attended some study sessions on Japan's criminal justice system with the DVD, telling the attendees that he expects them to understand through the drama that Ishikawa's "confession" came from "ill-assorted negotiations" between the interrogators and the suspect.

Ishikawa, for his part, says, "Actual interrogations were much tougher than the DVD images, as the police officers sometimes pounded on the desk."

Convictions relying on confessions are not necessarily a half-century old practice in Japan, as, for example, new DNA tests acquitted a man, who faced a life sentence over a 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl after making a forced confession, in 2010.

"The drama indicates how a suspect is questioned in Japan," Satoshi Yasuda, a longtime supporter of Ishikawa, said. "I expect the DVD to be watched widely to raise public awareness over the crusade of Mr. Ishikawa to reopen the case."

Ishikawa has lived under various restrictions since his provisional release, required to regularly present himself to a probation officer and to submit a request when he travels.

Referring to such situations, he says he is still in "invisible handcuffs."

Source: Japan Today, Keiji Hirano, June 9, 2017

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