Undaunted struggle has led former leprosy patients to historic victory

Former leprosy (Hansen's Disease) patients have won a historic victory after many years of struggle against the government isolation policy.

On May 23, the government decided not to appeal the Kumamoto District Court judgment of May 11 which ordered the government to compensate the plaintiffs for its long-time unconstitutional policy of isolating the patients.

At a news conference on May 23, Kodama Yuji, leprosy lawsuit plaintiffs group acting head, said, "I don't know how to express thanks for winning the victory. Our aspirations have been so high that I don't know how to express our deep gratitude."

Akahata's editorial of May 24 said that the government's decision marks the first step toward an overall settlement of the leprosy question and toward regaining the former patients' human dignity.

The plaintiffs and their lawyers held a meeting to celebrate the victory that evening joined by Shii Kazuo, Japanese Communist Party chair and Ichida Tadayoshi, JCP Secretariat head.

Shii said: "Nothing but your commendable fighting spirit, sometimes even at the cost of life, finally moved the government and won such a great victory."

Expressing hope to share his great pleasure with them, Shii said that the JCP will make every effort to completely solve the leprosy problem: pushing for a thorough investigation into the matter, recovery of former patients' human rights and honor, and measures to prevent the recurrence of the disease.

Kan Naoto, Democratic Party of Japan secretary general, and Doi Takako, Democratic Social Party chair, also attended and addressed the meeting.

Before its policy change, the government was reluctant to accept the court decision, saying that it overemphasized state responsibility, and that the government would make an appeal and later achieve an out-of-court settlement. Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro hesitated to meet the former patients who are 74 years old on average, though he met them eventually.

Till the final stage, the plaintiffs, who brought the suit in 1998 with only 13 members and now count 1,700, and lawyers and supporters, helped by the JCP and other opposition parties, petitioned the Diet and ministers concerned to stop appeal attempt, and carried out street actions. (end)