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2011 June 1 - 7 TOP3 [CIVIL RIGHTS]

Hope found in jail: interview of ‘judicial crime’ victim

June 5, 2011
It took them 43 years to finally prove their innocence. In a retrial of the so-called Fukawa case, a court on May 24 acquitted Sakurai Shoji and Sugiyama Takao, who were accused of the robbery and murder of a man in 1967. The following is an interview published in the Akahata Sunday edition with Sakurai, who expressed anger at the judicial system that created the false charge in the first place and talked about the hope he discovered while in jail:

I feel as if a heavy load has been finally taken off my back. Now I have a sense of peace within myself. From now on, I am free to go on trips or to vote in elections.

While experiencing the pleasure, Sugiyama and I are both strongly dissatisfied with the latest ruling.

The court recognized our “confessions” as being forced out of us by police interrogations and acquitted us. However, the ruling neither condemned the police or the prosecutors for creating the false conviction nor pointing out the judicial system’s failure to ascertain the truth.

We were both delinquent young men in our hometown. After we were arrested in a separate case, we were charged in the murder case we had never been involved in.


It might be difficult to understand why an innocent person can confess to a crime.

Questioning you behind closed doors, investigators accuse you by saying, “You are guilty. We have the evidence.” Although you tell them many times, “No, it wasn’t me. Please, I am innocent,” they do not hear your words at all. They deny your alibies and shout at you, “Don’t lie to us!” Such interrogation continues in a small room from 9 o’clock in the morning till midnight.

With a desperate desire to get out of that room, I confessed to the crime.

At that time I was thinking that they would find out the truth soon. I had never imagined that the police could lie to us and fake the evidence. However, once I made the confession, I was made out to be the guilty criminal by the police.

For instance, they asked me, “What color of pants was the victim wearing?” Of course, I did not know, so I randomly answered, “Black.” Then they said, “That’s not correct.” Then I said, “Gray,” and they told me, “No.” Then I said, “Blue,” and they told me, “Try harder to remember.” We continued until “khaki” came out of my mouth. This is how a large volume of the interrogation record was created.

After the Supreme Court found us guilty in 1970, we appealed twice for retrial. Through the court’s examination of our appeals as well as the retrial, it was revealed that police and prosecutors had concealed the truth and fabricated evidence.

They kept hiding very important evidence, including tape recordings of our confessions, a result of investigations that concluded that hairs left at the crime scene were not ours, and a postmortem certificate which was inconsistent with our confessions. The tapes were edited by them.


After the first trial, a lawyer visited me and recommended that I write a letter to Kokumin Kyuenkai (People’s Aid and Relief Society). I was told that it is an organization supporting victims of various forms of human rights violations.

In prison, we wrote many letters proclaiming our innocence. We started to exchange letters with Kyuenkai, and the circle of support expanded. Without being paid, lawyers worked for us for the sake of obtaining the truth.

For the first time in my life, I realized that in our society there are people with good hearts, fighting for justice.

This realization dramatically changed my life. I tried to do my best every moment even though I was behind bars.

I have never despaired. I always had hope for the future.

My struggle has not ended yet. I want to change the current investigation system which can still create false convictions as well as the judicial system that accepts prosecutors’ claims without question. Transparency must be introduced to the entire interrogation process.

There is always something to be gained in life. For 29 years in jail, I lost many things. However, what I gained was much greater.

That is, realizing that there are people who are selfless and recognizing for myself how I want to live my life.
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