Japan bar association warns Justice Ministry

A group of top Japanese lawyers said Thursday it has warned the Justice Ministry of possible human rights violations after seven inmates died shortly after being released from solitary confinement. In a report submitted Wednesday, the Federation of Bar Associations urged the ministry to reinvestigate seven prisoner deaths that occurred after they were held in solitary "protective" confinement without medical treatment from 1999 to 2003, despite obvious signs of health problems, said association spokeswoman Miki Sumiyama.

The ministry acknowledged the deaths of seven men, aged from 38 to 69 at the time of their deaths, but denied any wrongdoing by prison officials.

The bar association said prisons lacked appropriate medical care for inmates with health problems, including mental illness and drug dependence. Such inmates are routinely held in solitary confinement to calm them and are not given proper medical treatment, the report said. In January 2002, a 62-year-old inmate diagnosed with senile dementia, died of heart failure after four days of confinement in a cell with no heating in temperatures as low as 5 Celsius (40 F) at Chiba Prison near Tokyo, for vandalizing prison walls. "Quality of medical care inside Japanese prisons is very low," Sumiyama said. "Inmates should be able to receive the same level of treatment as at hospitals outside,” reports the AP. I.L.

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