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Medieval civilisations


NOV 08 - Govinda Mainali is a victim of Japan’s archaic criminal justice system

How a criminal or an alleged criminal is treated broadly reflects the attitude towards a fellow human being, which is why prisons and the criminal justice system are a good test of a nation’s civilisation. Almost 4,000 years ago, in the first known legal code inscribed by Hammurabi, the aphorism “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was just. It is testament to human nature’s slow pace of change that even today, the principle stands, most notably in the most powerful nations on earth, where the death penalty, a barbaric, medieval practice, is constitutionally retained. But the death penalty alone is not the problem with the justice system in many countries, and not the only remnant of barbarism. Although most countries promise in international forums to forbid torture, and have adopted constitutional safeguards as well as international covenants against it, they routinely flout their own assurances. The imprisonment of Govinda Mainali, who was acquitted on Wednesday by the Tokyo High Court of charges of raping and murdering a Japanese woman, Yasuko Watanabe, provides further proof of how developed countries retain a criminal-justice system with medieval orientations. Mainali was falsely convicted in 2000 of murdering Watanabe, an elite career woman at the Tokyo Electric Power Company by day and a prostitute by night. In total, the innocent man served 15 years in a Japanese prison, where he claims to have been routinely tortured by the Japanese police.

The case has brought international attention to the problems with the Japanese justice system and the prejudice of its police which did not consider it worthwhile to carry out a DNA test of the semen found in the deceased woman’s vagina, which belonged to a different man. The prosecutors, however, thought that Mainali’s semen, found in a used condom that dated well before the time of the victim’s death, was sufficient proof to jail him for life. One wonders if similar miscarriages of justice would have occurred had the alleged criminal been a Japanese, or a member of a powerful nation, instead of a lowly Nepali. Mainali, always maintaining his innocence, appealed. But the Supreme Court of Japan upheld the conviction in 2003, unsurprising in a country that has an abnormal 99.8 percent conviction rate in criminal cases, according to the New York Times. Mainali appealed for retrial in 2005 and it was only when the DNA results came out 15 years later that he was released. He has since returned to Nepal but suffers immense psychological trauma from the years of torture and imprisonment.

Of course, no police force or justice system in the world is perfect. Mistakes are made, for which the system should make provisions for reparations. But the minimum governments around the world can do is to uphold the promises they make to their own citizens and to the people of the world. Torture is a barbaric practice and a slap in the face of human dignity. In Japan, Nepal and elsewhere, such practices must stop if we are to enter a civilised era in history.


Posted on: 2012-11-09 08:55

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