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American Sues Government for Alleged Prison Abuse

July 2, 1996

TOKYO (AP) _ An American inmate sued Japan today over alleged prison abuses, saying he was tied up and put in solitary confinement for opening his eyes before a meal and wetting his hair to straighten it.

Kevin Mara, who is serving a 4 1/2-year sentence for smuggling marijuana, is seeking $917,000 from the government in compensation for alleged abuses at Fuchu Prison.

His lawyers say he is the first U.S. prisoner to take such action in Japan, but Japanese prisons have been criticized for human rights violations including arbitrary use of solitary confinement and retaliation for contacts with lawyers.

``I’ve already experienced retaliation,″ Mara said in a statement read by his lawyers. ``If I’m going to be here anyway, I might as well speak up.″

Mara, 32, of Norwich, Conn., was arrested in November 1992 and sentenced four months later.

In Japan, prisoners are subject to a complex set of rules covering every aspect of daily life. The most frequent penalty is solitary confinement.

According to the lawsuit, Mara opened his eyes when his name was called before a meal, violating rules requiring prisoners to keep their eyes closed until everyone is seated in the mess hall.

The punishment for the July 1993 violation: 10 days of solitary confinement in a filthy, barren cell.

The first 20 hours, Mara says, deprived him of his human dignity.

A leather belt with handcuffs restrained his left arm in front of him and his right hand behind, his lawyers said, and Mara had to wear trousers with a slit in the crotch to use the toilet without using his hands.

In December 1995, Mara’s lawsuit says, he was given 15 days of solitary confinement for mumbling ``crazy″ after a prison officer accused him of looking out the window and yelled at him. In February, he got another five days for wetting his hair to straighten it. Prison rules banning hair washing at any time other than bathing.

In March, Mara asked for a lawyer.

After that, his lawyers said, the prison moved him from a group cell to a solitary cell, where he now makes shopping bags, in a straight sitting position, for eight hours a day.

Justice Ministry spokesman Kazutoshi Komatsu said the ministry has not received the court document and cannot comment on the suit yet.

But he acknowledged international criticism of Japan’s prisons.

``We will try to improve conditions when we find it necessary, but we do not plan to follow every single criticism,″ Komatsu said.

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