An independent judicial panel has ruled an earlier prosecutors' decision not to indict officials at an immigration center in Nagoya over the 2021 death of a Sri Lankan detainee is unjust, paving the way for the case to be reconsidered, it said Monday.
In a decision dated Wednesday, the citizens who form the committee for the inquest of prosecution in Nagoya concluded the prosecutors should reconsider whether they can charge officials at Nagoya Regional Immigration Services Bureau, including the director at the time, for professional negligence resulting in the death of Sri Lankan woman Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali.
The committee noted that negligence could have been committed by officials that may link them to Wishma's death, which occurred when she was 33.
Officials should have been more aware of her critical situation by checking up on her health shortly before her death, and could have taken measures to save her, it said.
The prosecutors' previous interrogations of related parties in terms of the possibility of negligence were "insufficient," the panel said.
As for the allegation of murder and abandonment resulting in death, however, the committee determined that the officials did not willfully kill Wishma or purposely fail to protect the victim.
"It is difficult" to say that the prosecutors' investigations over the allegations were insufficient, the panel said, emphasizing that there is no evidence that would overturn the panel's decision not to indict them on murder charges.
Wishma, who was detained for overstaying her visa in 2020, died on March 6 after complaining of ill health, including vomiting and stomachaches, from mid-January.
Nagoya District Public Prosecutors Office, which investigated the case following a complaint filed by her family, decided in June not to prosecute 13 officers at the facility, including the director.
They said they could not reach a conclusion on the cause of death or establish a causal relationship between her treatment and her death.
Following the prosecutors' decision, Wishma's sisters filed a complaint in August with the judicial panel to seek a review of the prosecutors' decision.
"Prosecutors should decide to bring charges this time around" after the panel raised doubts about their earlier investigation, Chie Komai, a lawyer representing Wishma's family, told a press conference in Tokyo, joined by her sisters and carrying a photograph of Wishma.
The sisters thanked the panel for its decision but also said they were hoping for the committee to go a step further and conclude that the allegations leveled at the officials merit an indictment.
"There was plenty of evidence to bring charges against (the officials)," Wayomi, 30, said.
"I would have no problem" if the committee decided that the prosecutors should indict the officials, Poornima, 28, said.
Yoichi Kanayama, deputy prosecutor at Nagoya District Public Prosecutors Office, said in a statement, "We will respond appropriately based on the committee's decision."
Wishma's death sparked national outrage over her treatment at the time, forcing the government a few months later to drop a bill revising rules on foreigners facing deportation, including asylum seekers.
Wishma arrived in Japan in 2017 as a student but was taken into custody at the immigration facility in August 2020 for overstaying her visa after an earlier application for refugee status had been rejected.