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6 people suing gov't in 3 courts for damages over forced sterilization surgeries

The Sendai District Court is seen in this file photo taken in June 2017. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

SENDAI/KOBE -- A woman in her 60s forcibly sterilized in her 20s on the grounds of "hereditary mental retardation" filed a 33 million-yen damages suit against the government at the Sendai District Court in northeastern Japan on Sept. 28, to be joined by five others making similar filing the same day at the Kobe and Osaka district courts in the country's west.

The six are among the some 25,000 people estimated to have been subjected to forced sterilization surgeries under the now defunct eugenic protection law (1948-1996) for what were considered hereditary, mental or physical disorders or disabilities. The law and the operations have since been lambasted as inhumane and discriminatory, and Diet members are leading efforts to provide relief to victims.

The new plaintiffs, including four with hearing difficulties who are filing in the Kobe court and one in the Osaka court, will bring the total number of plaintiffs in similar damages suits to 13 at six district courts nationwide. This is the first time that people hard of hearing have taken their cases to court, and that such a suit has been brought in western Japan's Kansai region. The series of lawsuits began when a woman in her 60s from Miyagi Prefecture took her case to court in January this year.

According to papers filed with the Sendai District Court and other information, the woman underwent the forced sterilization procedure in 1977. Her case was found on an "operation recipient list" held by the Miyagi Prefectural Government after her younger sister filed a freedom of information request to find information about the plaintiff's surgery. Their mother, now deceased, had told the sister about the operation.

The sister decided to file a damages suit in response to a series of press reports on the operations.

Lawyers for the plaintiff assert that, as they did in two previous cases in Miyagi Prefecture, the eugenic law violated her constitutional right to pursue happiness, as well as her reproductive rights. They intend to hold the state and the Diet responsible for failing to provide relief to victims even after the law was revised in 1996 to ban the sterilization operations targeting patients with disabilities.

In the lawsuit to be filed with the Kobe District Court, two married couples from Hyogo Prefecture are seeking a total of 44 million yen in damages. According to their lawyers, one of the couples -- Takaji and Kimiko Kobayashi, both 86 -- were married in 1960 and Kimiko became pregnant, but she was taken by her mother to a hospital where she underwent forced abortion and sterilization operations without explanation. In the case of the other couple, in their 70s, the husband was taken to a hospital by his mother and forcibly sterilized just before his marriage in 1968. The man was never given an explanation.

No records of those operations have been found so far, but the lawyers judged that the plaintiffs' testimonies clearly prove that they underwent eugenic surgeries. The four learned there are many people like them through media reports, and decided to come forward and take legal action, hoping that their cases could make it easier for others to seek compensation. They will argue that their right to bear children and have a family was violated by the surgeries.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Endo, Sendai Bureau, and Yasuyoshi Mochizuki, Kobe Bureau)

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