05/13/2006 - THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
The last member of a group of five Japanese travelers imprisoned in Australia for heroin smuggling but who maintained their innocence throughout was paroled Thursday.
Yoshio Katsuno, 47, was released from a prison in Victoria state and immediately deported. He arrived in Japan on Friday.
Katsuno and the four others arrived at Melbourne Airport from Malaysia in June 1992. About 13 kilograms of heroin was found in the double bottom of one of their suitcases.
The five insisted they were innocent. They claimed that when they were in Malaysia, a local guide said one of their bags had been stolen and provided them with the suitcase as a substitute. They said they were unaware the guide was using them as mules for heroin.
They also said they could not present an appropriate defense because of mistranslations during the police interrogations and in the courts.
However, the judges rejected their arguments.
Four of the five were paroled in November 2002 and returned to Japan. However, Katsuno, who was viewed as the principal offender, was forced to stay longer.
He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
A group, including a lawyer in Osaka, was formed in Japan to support the five and press for their early release.
Since 1998, the five have filed complaints with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, saying the mistranslations infringed on their rights to a fair trial.(IHT/Asahi: May 13,2006)