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From darkness to light: Many have high hopes for eugenic sterilization damages suit

Following the first hearing in a trial filed against the government for compensation over forced sterilization surgeries performed under the defunct Eugenics Protection Law, the sister-in-law of the plaintiff speaks at a press conference in Sendai's Aoba Ward on March 28, 2018. (Mainichi)

SENDAI -- The first case filed against the government for compensation over the forced sterilizations of those with disabilities, hereditary disorders or mental illnesses under the defunct Eugenics Protection Law (1948-1996) began here on March 28, with double the people crowding into the gallery, including those in wheelchairs and people with hearing impairments, showcasing high interest in the case.

"Disabilities are part of an individual's character," stated the sister-in-law of the plaintiff, a woman in her 60s. "I want a society where everyone's face is visible." Holding a press conference following the proceedings of the first day of the trial at the Sendai District Court in Miyagi Prefecture, the sister-in-law first thanked all of those who had supported their family, and said, "The Eugenics Protection Law is like the gray color of the winter ocean, and those with disabilities and their families came to live in that darkness... Through this trial, I want to turn that world the blue color of the spring ocean."

"Even if someone has a disability, they are still a person who has their own character, and there is still so much that they can do. Society is responsible for noticing that," she emphasized. "I want to get rid of the labels that have been put on those with disabilities."

A woman in her 70s also from Miyagi Prefecture who underwent forced sterilization surgery in her teens and has been campaigning for recognition of the damage done to her for close to 20 years and a Tokyo man in his 70s who also claims to have been sterilized in his teens were also present. The two intend to follow the path carved out by the plaintiff with the current case and seek damages from the government in court.

The woman in her 70s is battling cancer, and said in a shaking voice, "I want my life back. From now on, hospitalization and surgeries await me, but I would like to also go forward (with the lawsuit)."

The Tokyo man had hidden the fact that he had been forcibly sterilized from those around him for many years, only confessing to his wife five years ago, right before she passed away, that it had happened. "I was able to escape the darkness in which I was trapped," he said of revealing the painful experience. "There has to be many others who were forced to undergo the surgery. I would like them to gather their courage and come forward."

Of the process leading up to the issues surrounding the defunct law finally reaching a courtroom, lawyer Koji Niisato, who heads the legal team representing the plaintiff, said, "Each of the persistent efforts made by the victims added up, and the dots were finally connected. It is each individual victim who will bring about change." Niisato also called for more to join in the legal battle.

"Those affected are growing older, and the trial needs to proceed as soon as possible," Niisato said about his vision for the trial. "We will consider testimony from doctors and constitutional scholars, and aim to conduct a trial that accurately reflects the truth of the situation."

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