Guilty until proven innocent
Here’s an unsolicited advice to those planning to visit Japan or are already based there. Don’t flirt with anything remotely criminal-you could end up behind bars for years.
Take the case of Govinda Prasad Mainali, a 45-year-old Nepali worker in Japan, who spent 15 years in prison for a crime he didn’t ‘commit’. Thanks to the Japanese criminal justice system.
This system, for those who are unaware, has an astounding conviction rate of 99.7%—effectively meaning if you are caught by police for an offence you may not have committed, you are most likely to get convicted and spend time behind bars like Mainali.
He landed in Kathmandu on Saturday after a Japanese court freed him from prison following fresh DNA evidence proving he could not have been present at the scene of the crime he was convicted for.
He is now facing a retrial-a very rare thing for courts in Japan.
Mainali, who reached Tokyo in 1994 as a migrant worker, was arrested in 1997-first for overstaying his visa and then for the murder of a 39-year-old woman employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co., who used to moonlight as a prostitute after office hours.
Mainali had admitted to having sex with the deceased 10 days prior to her death. But the prosecution ‘hid’ evidence of semen and hair of a third person found at the scene of crime to push forward their case against Mainali.
Based on a condom containing Mainali’s semen found in the toilet of an empty apartment where the body was discovered, the prosecution pushed their case against the Nepali worker. Semen and hair of the third person was not presented before court.
Since Mainali’s semen was found to have predated the killing, the Tokyo Dictrict Court acquitted him in 2000. But instead of deporting him for overstaying his visa, prosecutors kept him in immigration custody while they appealed against the verdict.
This was done as the appeal trial couldn’t have taken place without Mainali’s presence. In 2003, the Supreme Court reversed the earlier verdict and sentenced Mainali to life imprisonment for the murder.
But following media pressure in Japan and constant lobbying by Mainali’s Japanese supporters and other Nepali workers, the prosecution revealed in 2010 that they had withheld information about a piece of gauze containing semen found inside the victim’s body.
A subsequent DNA test found a match between the semen and hairs found in the apartment-suggesting an unidentified person was with the victim before her death. The evidence had no match with Mainali’s DNA.
Instead of admitting that prosecutors had violated their ethical code by withholding evidence, a spokesman for Tokyo High Prosecutors Office was reported by The Japan Times as stating that they “submitted evidence appropriately in order to prove their case.”
Based on fresh evidence, Mainali is likely to get exonerated in the retrial. But his case and the media interest it generated in Japan, Nepal and other countries exposed flaws in the judicial system prevalent in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Mainali has expressed no desire yet to sue Japanese authorities for the miscarriage of justice and 15 lost years. If he takes that route, it is bound to cause further embarrassment for the system which seems to believe in the maxim-guilty till proven otherwise.
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