A Japanese court yesterday awarded compensation to the family of a Ghanaian who died in immigration custody, blaming officials for accidentally killing the man who was restrained with handcuffs and a mouth gag.
Tokyo District Court ruled that the family of Abubakar Awudu Suraj - who was awaiting deportation at the time of his death in March 2010 - should receive 5 million yen (HK$382,000) in damages, well below the family's demand for 136 million yen.
The victim, then 45, died at Tokyo's Narita airport as he was being bundled aboard a plane bound for Cairo.
Immigration officials had his legs restrained with handcuffs locked to his belt, Jiji Press news agency reported. He was also gagged with a towel and forced to bend over in a tight bundle, which led to his suffocation, the court ruled.
"The immigration officials restrained him beyond what was necessary or appropriate," Judge Hisaki Kobayashi said, adding that the restraint was "illegal".
Outside court, the victim's widow said she took some comfort from the decision.
"I feel less resentful after the court recognised the illegality of what the immigration officials did," she said.
Prosecutors had earlier decided not to press criminal charges against 10 immigration officials involved in the man's death.
That led to Suraj's widow filing a civil lawsuit and demanding an explanation of how he died as he was being deported for staying in Japan illegally.
Japan keeps a tight lid on immigration and rarely grants political asylum despite being a major foreign-aid donor.
Human rights activists have complained for years about harsh treatment by immigration officials and conditions at immigration detention centres.