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93K sign petition calling for truth of Sri Lankan's death at Japan immigration center

Yoshiaki Miyao, head of the security department at the Immigration Services Agency of Japan, left, is seen listening to explanations from people including members of the students and citizens group seeking the truth in the death of Wishma Sandamali, in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 1, 2021. (Mainichi/Naoki Watabe)

TOKYO -- A group seeking the truth about the death of a Sri Lankan woman in detention last March submitted a 93,148-signature petition on Oct. 1 to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan calling for the release of all security camera footage of her while she was being held and a comprehensive plan to prevent similar deaths.

    Wishma Sandamali was 33 when she died at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Bureau. The group's petition was received by Yoshiaki Miyao, the agency's head of security.

    The immigration agency released its final report on Wishma's death on Aug. 10. Around two weeks of security camera footage was edited into two hours, and shown just to bereaved family. The family could only watch about half of it before being overcome by the mental shock of the images. While they did have a chance to watch the footage again, they were not allowed to bring legal representation, and the session was canceled. The immigration agency has refused to fully release the footage or provide copies, citing security concerns and other issues.

    The signature drive by the group, made up of students and foreigner-support groups, began online on July 7 and ran until Oct. 1. A fourth-year student at Waseda University said as the petition was handed over, "If the situation stays as it is, this tragedy will be repeated. Please, this time accept the views of the bereaved family and of many people." On receiving it, Miyao said he would "take it back and report it" to his superiors

    Members of the students and citizens group seeking the truth in the death of Wishma Sandamali are seen describing their intentions in handing over a petition, during a press conference in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 1, 2021. (Mainichi/Naoki Watabe)

    At a press conference held after the presentation, the group announced the results of a survey it carried out on Japan's political parties. When asked whether they would support the creation of a third-party investigative body for the Wishma case, and to the full release of the security camera, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) answered "no" in both cases.

    The opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and Reiwa Shinsengumi all answered "yes." The anti-NHK party backed establishing a third-party body, but said it could not answer regarding the release of the video. Other parties reportedly did not provide responses within the time available.

    The group intends to submit a proposal for a third-party investigative body, and to review the punishments meted out to immigration bureau staff involved in Wishma's detention, which it sees as too lenient.

    Wishma came to Japan as a Japanese language school student in June 2017. She became unable to attend the school, and lost her residency status. In August 2020, she was arrested on suspicion of staying in Japan illegally, and put in detention at the Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau.

    Wishma's health began deteriorating in mid-January 2021, but her requests to be hospitalized went unheeded. She was confirmed dead at a hospital on March 6. The Immigration Services Agency's final report on the matter included passages stating the medical response had been insufficient, and indicated it planned to change employees' awareness and enhance medical provisions, among other improvements.

    (Japanese original by Asako Kamihigashi, Digital News Center)

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