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Top prosecutors office apologizes for 'special trials' of leprosy patients

For the first time, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office on March 31 accepted responsibility for its involvement in trying leprosy patients in so-called "special courts" outside of standard courtrooms -- a practice suspected of being discriminatory -- and apologized.

A prosecutor from the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office extended the apology in a meeting with attorneys representing former leprosy patients in Kumamoto.

In April of last year, Supreme Court Chief Justice Itsuro Terada acknowledged that the top court's handling of trials involving leprosy -- or Hansen's disease -- patients was suspected of being "discriminatory and illegal," and apologized, but the latest apology is the first ever from prosecutors.

The former patients have demanded that prosecutors file a retrial request in what is known as the "Kikuchi Incident," in which a man who had been recommended for admission to Kikuchi Keifuen, a sanatorium in Kumamoto Prefecture for those with leprosy, had been tried for murder in a "special" quarantined courtroom. He was sentenced to death, and the Supreme Court confirmed the sentence in 1957 despite his insistence throughout that he was innocent. He was executed in 1962. The former patients have argued that the trial was influenced by prejudice.

On the one hand, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office admitted its involvement in 26 "special court" trials even after it was found that leprosy could be cured with medication in 1960. At the same time, however, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office communicated to the former patients' attorneys that it had no intention of seeking a retrial.

The former patients are poised to file a lawsuit with the Kumamoto District Court seeking state reparations, claiming that by not seeking a retrial, public prosecutors are neglecting their duties to eliminate discrimination and prejudice against former leprosy patients.

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