Updated: 03/20/2014 01:40 | By Agence France-Presse

Japan court awards damages in Ghanaian's deportation death

A Japanese court on Wednesday 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.

Japan court awards damages in Ghanaian's deportation death

Foreign residents and their supporters stage a protest against fingerprinting and photographing foreigners entering the country in front of the justice ministry in Tokyo, November 20, 2007 - by Toshifumi Kitamura

The 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 five million yen ($50,000) in damages, well below the family's demand for 136 million yen.

The victim, then 45-years-old, 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 was quoted as saying as he delivered the ruling, 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 told reporters.

Japanese 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 illegally in Japan.

Japan keeps a tight lid on immigration and rarely grants political asylum despite being a major foreign-aid donor. The strict limits have taken on a new urgency as the country wrestles with a rapidly ageing population and fewer young people to pay for their care in retirement. 

Human rights activists, lawyers and migrant communities have complained for years about the harsh treatment meted out by immigration officials and conditions at immigration detention centres.

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