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The violent truth about immigration detention centers in Japan: Part 2 of 2

Brazilian national Andre Kussunoki asks immigration officers why he needs to be transferred to another facility as they restrain him at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Oct. 9, 2018. (Photo grab from video provided by Andre Kussunoki's legal team)

TOKYO -- A Japanese Brazilian man has brought a lawsuit against the Japanese government, seeking damages for the injuries he incurred following an alleged assault by immigration officers. The acts of violence were supposedly committed against 35-year-old Andre Kussunoki at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau in Tokyo's Minato Ward when he was detained there. In a December 2021 hearing which took place at the Tokyo District Court, an immigration control officer who was involved in the "subduing" of Kussunoki appeared in court and offered statements. While he claimed that his actions were justifiable, there have been several court cases in the past where excessive acts of repression were deemed illegal.

    On Oct. 5, 2018, Kussunoki was told he would be transferred from the Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau to the Higashi-Nihon Immigration Center in the Ibaraki Prefecture city of Ushiku. As the transfer was against his will, he barricaded himself in the bathroom. Immigration officers then dragged him outside and pinned him down to the floor, and carried him to a separate room, where they continued to "subdue" him, even after they placed him down on a mat. Kussunoki was diagnosed as having a partial left rotator cuff tear the following day.

    A male immigration control officer who took part in repressing Kussunoki appeared at the court hearing on Dec. 2, 2021, to testify for the Japanese government. He was the person who held down Kussunoki's head while pressing his weight on him, as seen in the latter half of a video of around 20 minutes that was submitted to the Tokyo District Court as evidence in the lawsuit. The male witness gave statements during a questioning session that lasted nearly two hours. As for the reason of the repression, he explained, "As Mr. Kussunoki resisted his transfer, there were concerns that he and immigration officers would get injured." In addition, he claimed that the methods used to subdue Kussunoki were valid by saying that he follows instructions from the "commander."

    This immigration control officer has a height of 180 centimeters and weighs 92 kilograms. When the judge pointed out that he joined in the repression even though there were no instructions by the commander, and asked if there were any problems regarding his actions or safety, the officer said he decided on his own that it was a "matter of emergency." Regarding Kussunoki's reaction to the subjugation, as seen in the video, including his face being distorted in pain, and his many cries of "It hurts! It hurts!" the officer repeatedly said that the actions were taken "to prevent the occurrence of an injury." The national government claimed until the very end that the officers' actions were justifiable as professional duties.

    Were the actions to "subdue" the plaintiff even necessary in the first place?

    Andre Kussunoki, who is currently under provisional release from detention, visited the Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Feb. 4, 2022. He is concerned that he will be detained again and separated from his family. (Mainichi/Asako Kamihigashi)

    Kussunoki told the Mainichi Shimbun that he barricaded himself in the bathroom as he had heard of incidents where there were detainees who were injured by immigration officials and of those who died as they were being transferred to another facility, and that he wanted to avoid that happening to him. He stated that he "intended to obey orders had the officers provided a proper explanation on the reason and rules of the transfer."

    Kosuke Oie, the attorney representing Kussunoki, commented, "If the officers had offered an explanation from the beginning, he wouldn't have resisted, and thereby would not have been subjected to violence in the form of repression." The immigration bureau side did not clearly state the reason for the transfer, even during the hearing.

    Such cases of "repression" at immigration detention centers have more than tripled nationwide in four years, from 463 in 2015 to 1,431 in 2019. Cases where detainees are isolated in solitary rooms have also increased from 174 in 2015 to 569 in 2019.

    There have also been a series of lawsuits brought against the Japanese government, where plaintiffs claim that they had been subjected to assault from employees at detention facilities. There was a total of 127 civil suits filed against immigration authorities between 2000 and 2019. Furthermore, there were at least 20 cases of civil proceedings regarding violence at detention centers in the past 20 years, when counting only cases which had been disclosed by the press and other sources.

    In a lawsuit where a Turkish man sued the Japanese government claiming that immigration officials broke his arm while trying to restrain him when he was detained at the Osaka Regional Immigration Services Bureau detention facility, a settlement was reached in the Osaka District Court in September 2021. The Japanese government admitted that the officials' oppressive actions caused the man's arm to fracture and apologized, agreeing to pay 3 million yen (about $26,100).

    Questions also remain regarding long-term detentions at immigration facilities. International organizations have repeatedly presented concerns over Japan's long-term detentions of foreign nationals. The U.N. Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have also stated that detention periods should be kept to a minimum, and asked that the Japanese government only carry out detentions when other methods were thoroughly considered and ruled out.

    Attorney Oie said, "The scope left to the discretion of immigration authorities is currently too broad. In accordance with international standards, Japan needs to take judicial procedures regarding detention, and set a maximum limit for detention periods. Even if individuals are detained, they deserve to have their human rights protected."

    (Japanese original by Asako Kamihigashi, Digital News Center)

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