Wednesday, July 07, 2004

How the Tokyo Mitropolitan Police Deals With People From Out of Town

This is a story about a friend of mine here in Tokyo who was thrown in jail for being from the wrong country. It was recently revealed in the media that the police found a connection between a French national who had lived in Japan for a year and al-Qaeda. They scoured his old phone records and threw about five other guys of middle eastern descent in jail.

My friend, Ghadir, was not one of those men of course. He's a permanent resident here who attends (minor oversight by the prosecution) a Christian church and works as a translator in the court system. He knows his rights as a resident of this country, and he was determined to get the fair treatment that he is entitled to.

Ghadir is very lucky. He has a lot of friends here, and a good support structure. I'm pretty sure that he'll come out OK despite Japan's 99% conviction rate for cases that go to trial (yes, you read that number correctly). He's also very lucky because his family was able to help him post five million yen bail!

My question is--how many other men are locked away in jail right now because they happened to be from the middle east and got caught in the Setagaya police's fishing expedition? My guess is that most of them don't have the large contingent of friends and supporters that Ghadir is blessed with. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

The following is an article from today's Japan Times.

Iranian's charge of brutality vs. word of police

Staff writer

Jailed for two months and charged with obstructing justice, Ghadir Esmaeili, a 34-year-old Iranian permanent resident in Japan, claims he's a victim of police brutality, although other than his damaged eye he lacks damning visual evidence like the notorious video footage of L.A. police beating Rodney King.

Ghadir Esmaeili, an Iranian on trial for obstructing police, explains to his lawyer Tsuguhide Suzuki how he was roughed up by officers from the Setagaya Police Station on April 4.

Esmaeili claims he was confronted by police, was roughed up even though he was cooperative, and was allowed to leave but was then placed into the system when he vowed to lodge a complaint.

Setagaya police meanwhile have an array of claims against him, ranging from allegations that he shoved a sergeant, even in the presence of more than a dozen other officers, that he appeared to be high on drugs, although this was never substantiated, and that he identified himself as a member of al-Qaeda who had a bomb in his car.

Esmaeili's troubles began shortly after noon April 4 in a parking lot in the Taishido district of Setagaya Ward, where he had driven to visit his girlfriend's apartment.

Two Setagaya Police Station officers, including Sgt. Toshikazu Suzuki, initially confronted him and demanded to see some identification, allegedly because he was acting suspiciously. Later that day, he found himself under arrest and facing charges of obstructing police. He also claims he was beaten repeatedly before his arrest.

"I acted calmly and fully cooperated with police. They were the ones who became rude after they learned I am Iranian and one-sidedly beat me," said Esmaeili, a translator who came to Japan in 1991 and lives in Higashi-Murayama, western Tokyo.

"This is how Japanese police view foreigners, especially Iranians, who in their minds must either be drug dealers or some other type of criminal," he added.

A Setagaya police spokesman declined comment on the case, saying the matter is pending before court.

Following his arrest, Esmaeili was held at the Setagaya Police Station for nearly two months and is currently on trial before the Tokyo District Court. He claims that during his incarceration, he was questioned by police for only two hours and by prosecutors on two other occasions.

In their opening statement in May at the start of Esmaeili's trial, prosecutors claimed he refused to comply when two patrolmen, including Sgt. Suzuki, asked him to show his passport in the parking lot for a housing exhibit at around 1 p.m. on April 4.

The prosecutors further claimed that Esmaeili later threw his alien registration card at the officers, grabbed Suzuki's uniform by the chest, shook him violently and ran away, shouting obscenities.

According to the indictment against Esmaeili, the patrolmen caught up with him 30 minutes later aided by a dozen other officers, but he continued to act violently, pushing Suzuki in the chest.

Esmaeili, on the other hand, claims he realized that defying police would only cause more trouble and that he fully cooperated when the two officers questioned him, immediately handing over his alien registration card and driver's license.

Esmaeili told The Japan Times that when the officers realized he is Iranian, they asserted that he therefore must be a drug dealer. He claimed they then pinned his arms behind his back, and punched him several times while heaping insults on him.

According to Esmaeili, the two officers backed off when he told them he would call the Iranian Embassy. He claimed he then walked away, but more than a dozen policemen later flocked to the area and searched his car.

The officers found nothing illegal, he said, noting the officers then told him he could go. But about an hour later, after he accompanied them to the police station and threatened to complain to their chief about the violence inflicted on him, he said he was instead placed under arrest.

Although the two initial officers reportedly claim it was Esmaeili who was violent, he is the only one who apparently sustained an injury, and he was never charged with assault.

Following his release, a doctor determined that Esmaeili had suffered serious damage to the optic nerve of his left eye.

Other aspects of Esmaeili's case are questionable.

He said that after his encounter with the two patrolmen, he was able to place nine calls with his cellular phone, including a complaint he lodged with the Metropolitan Police Department after he arrived at the Setagaya Police Station -- a move not usually allowed a criminal suspect. His cell phone records apparently back up his claim.

Esmaeili further claimed he was able to drive his car from the lot to the police station, giving four officers a ride in the process.

"Police later came up with the story that Esmaeili violently obstructed police out of a desperate attempt to cover up their abuses," argued lawyer Tsuguhide Suzuki, who is representing Esmaeili.

"Esmaeili's arrest and lengthy detention also appear to be aimed at teaching a lesson to those who defy police, especially foreigners," the lawyer said.

Sgt. Suzuki testified in Esmaeili's trial on June 30, reiterating his claim that it was the defendant who consistently acted in a violent manner while he and the other officers tried to calm him down.

When asked why he thought Esmaeili was acting suspiciously in their initial encounter, Suzuki said the defendant avoided eye contact and was holding a video cassette that he suspected contained illegal stimulants. Suzuki admitted, however, that these circumstances would not ordinarily prompt him to question a passerby.

He also claimed he had learned from experience that foreigners often carry weapons, noting it is a common notion among police that foreigners require "special handling" because they are usually bigger than Japanese policemen.

Suzuki also claimed Esmaeili threatened him by shouting that he was a member of al-Qaeda and had a bomb in his car. The sergeant added that he felt "there is a cultural difference (between Japan and Iran)" and also that he thought Esmaeili must be high on drugs.

Esmaeili denies he made any such assertions.

The Japan Times: July 7, 2004