In June 2012, Govinda Prasad Mainali was released from a Japanese prison where he’d been held for 15 years and returned to his home country of Nepal. He had been wrongly accused of murder in 1997 and new DNA evidence had set him free. Although there were many men who had encountered the murder victim in her last days, he was the only foreigner, and on top of that he was a day laborer and dark-skinned; in other words, the obvious killer.
The prospect of going to jail in Japan is pretty terrifying. This is not the United States or another country where you’re guaranteed basic human rights. Amnesty International has continuously criticized Japan for its abuse of prisoners. Beatings, overcrowding, and a special form of solitary confinement known as keiheikin, where you’re forced to sit in a cramped room cross-legged and handcuffed, are the main complaints.
If you’re arrested in Japan, you can be held 23 days without charge, without bail, and with no access to an attorney (the police can keep you for 3 days, and this can be extended by a judge to 23 which it usually is).
The constant interrogation you undergo during these three weeks is brutal. The conviction rate in Japan is almost 100%. The legal system and its apologists say this is because the cops do such a great job of gathering evidence that before they arrest you.
Those who have been through the process say confessions are forced. Interrogations are marathon sessions often interspersed with beatings and solitary confinement. At each step along the way, a confession is put before you and they tell you all of this will end if you just sign it.
If you’re arrested in Japan:
- Contact your embassy for legal representation and any other help they can give you.
- Produce your passport and whatever other ID documents they ask for; they’ll hold you until they get them.
- Be polite and don’t struggle, even when you’re mistreated. You can have other charges heaped on you.
- Get an interpreter. Now is not the time to practice your Japanese. In Japanese, they have the control. You need to understand fully everything that’s said.
- You don’t have a right to remain silent and your silence looks like guilt in their eyes. Assert your innocence constantly.
- DON’T sign anything unless you’ve read and understand it and it’s true. If you sign the confession just to make it end, you’ll have far worse problems to deal with.
And remember that this is Japan, not your home country. Smoking a little weed can get you a prison sentence. Beating up on other people is frowned upon even if it’s a way of life where you’re from. Japan seems tolerant of everything when you first arrive here, but cross the line and you’ll find out where that tolerance ends.