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Around 200 flaws found in court translation for ex-Japanese Red Army member

Some 200 problems including mistranslations and omissions have been found in translated testimony for a former Japanese Red Army member on trial over a 1986 rocket attack on the Embassy of Japan in Indonesia, it has been learned.

The former member, Tsutomu Shirosaki, 68, is facing charges including attempted murder in a lay judge trial. The translation problems were found in court testimony provided by three Indonesians.

It had been pointed out that an interpreter's translation of the testimonies was unnatural, so the Tokyo District Court requested a review by a different interpreter. One police officer's statement about wearing civilian clothing while on duty was mistranslated to say that the police officer was wearing a uniform. Another testimony stated that there had been no discussion about how to divide up work to take fingerprints, but this was translated to mean the opposite -- that there was discussion. Many omissions were also found in the translations.

At trial proceedings at the Tokyo District Court on Oct. 27, the results of the review were accepted as court evidence, and the mistranslations were corrected.

A member of Shirosaki's defense team said, "There was even a mistranslation that changed a denial to an affirmation. The mistakes this time were corrected but there may be many other times in which this sort of thing goes unnoticed."

According to the Supreme Court, as of April last year there were 3,909 registered court interpreters who together handled 61 languages, but there are no certifications or tests for the position.

Makiko Mizuno, professor of forensic linguistics at Kinjo Gakuin University, who has experience as a court interpreter, says, "There is a high risk of mistranslations influencing things such as the punishment decided by a court. Japan is lagging behind by not having a certification exam for court interpreters, which is common in Europe and the United States. To make sure we have quality interpreters, the problems (with testimony translations) should be investigated, and the results used in making improvements."

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