A Tokyo court on Thursday ordered the Japanese government to pay 220,000 yen ($1,600) in damages to a Kurdish man who alleged he was assaulted when staff at a detention center where he was being held in 2019 forcibly restrained him.

The Tokyo District Court ruled some actions of the staff at the immigration center in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, were illegal, including when someone forcibly pushed their thumb under his chin and when his arms were pulled up while handcuffed behind his back.

"They were illegal, as such actions exceeded what was deemed reasonably necessary," Presiding Judge Kenji Shinoda said. But the court ruled isolating the 44-year-old, known only as Deniz, was lawful due to his agitated state.

According to the complaint, Deniz, who declined to give his surname for fear of retaliation against his family in Turkey, was sent to the Higashi-Nihon Immigration Center in February 2017 after his application for refugee status was rejected by the state.

Deniz, a Kurdish asylum seeker who sued the Japanese government over assault by immigration detention center personnel, speaks at a press conference in Tokyo on April 20, 2023. (Kyodo)

In January 2019, he made a request for psychotropic medication that was denied by staff, and he responded by shouting due to the stress he felt he was under, the complaint said.

In seeking damages of 11 million yen, Deniz, now on provisional release, said he was restrained and assaulted by several staffers. He was put into solitary confinement for several days for kicking an employee in the stomach but claimed the measure was illegal because he did not assault anyone.

The state argued that the step was legal, as he failed to follow an order.

In the lawsuit, the state submitted to the court footage of the moment Deniz was restrained by staff. It showed five or six staffers yelling as they held him down, handcuffing him behind his back as he cried out in pain.

"The immigration center does not treat detainees as people," said Deniz through a translator at a press conference in Tokyo after the ruling was handed down.

Takeshi Ohashi, a lawyer representing him, called the verdict a "severe condemnation" of the immigration center.

He added they will consider indicting the staff members whose actions the court deemed assaultive and cruel.

Deniz said besides the actions described in the complaint, he was subjected to improper acts, such as personnel pulling his arms up high or forcibly holding his head down, "as many as 20 times."

"To me, that is torture," he said.

The Immigration Services Agency said it will "take appropriate measures" after examining the ruling.

In recent years, there have been cases of foreign detainees sustaining injuries while being restrained at immigration facilities in Japan.

Their treatment garnered attention after the death of a Sri Lankan woman, Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, in 2021 while detained at an immigration center in central Japan.

Her family is seeking damages from the government over her death, alleging she was illegally detained and died due to a lack of necessary medical care.

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