Amnesia victim wrongly jailed for eight years

Time of article published Mar 12, 2006

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By Paco Nunez

Nassau, Bahamas - A Japanese man suffering from amnesia was unlawfully held in a Bahamas prison and an immigration centre for eight years without being charged, a court has ruled.

Atain Takitota, 41, was awarded $500 000 (about R3,1-million), which includes $400 000 "for the loss of eight years and two months of the appellant's (his) life," the Bahamas Court of Appeal said in a ruling that reached local news media on Friday.

Atain said he was robbed of his passport and money shortly after he arrived in the Bahamas in August 1992 from Osaka, Japan. Police soon arrested him, at first suspecting that he had tried to break into a vehicle and later believing that he was a vagrant.

Authorities held Atain at two locations, including a maximum-security cell with about 20 other prisoners at the Fox Hill prison for six years.

"What is particularly troubling about this case is that not once during the entire eight-year period that the appellant was incarcerated was he taken before any court at any time," the three-judge panel said in their ruling issued Thursday.

The only reason immigration authorities gave for his detention was that he was "an undesirable and his presence was not conducive to the public good," the judges said.

Atain tried to commit suicide while in detention by going on hunger strike in 1997 by slashing his wrists twice in 1998, but was returned to detention after each attempt.

Judges said the medical staff at Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre in Nassau determined he was suffering from retrograde amnesia.

The judges also noted that the Japanese Embassy in the Dominican Republic said initial investigations in 1994 did not identify Atain as a Japanese citizen, but asked Bahamian authorities to contact them if there was more information.

"There is nothing on the record to show that any further information or evidence of any kind was ever sent" to Japanese authorities, the ruling said.

Atain filed a lawsuit in 2000 against Bahamas' attorney general, immigration director and national security minister, alleging he was being arbitrarily held. He was released in October of that year.

The Bahamas Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that Atain had entered the country illegally and awarded him $1 000 for the one week that he was held between the time of his arrest and when a deportation order was issued. That ruling was overturned by the appeals court.

Phone calls on Saturday to Atain's attorney, AD Hanna Sr, the Bahamas governor general, were not immediately returned.

Grand Bahama Human Rights Association President Fred Smith deplored the incident: "We cannot have a penal system where people get lost."

He also said such "arbitrary and unlawful detainment has plagued the Bahamas for decades," especially for illegal immigrants.

The ruling comes as the Bahamas faces criticism for its handling of two Cuban dentists who have been detained there nearly one year despite having prior clearance to migrate with their families to the United States. - Sapa-AP

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