After fleeing criminal charges in Tokyo two years ago, former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn led a public campaign attacking Japan’s justice system, arguing that conditions in the country’s prisons were designed to “drive you in despair”.
Now Michael Taylor, the American who staged Mr Ghosn’s dramatic escape, is living these harsh conditions for himself, his legal team says, as they campaign for him to be returned to the US .
Mr Taylor, the former Green Beret who smuggled Mr Ghosn out of Japan into a compound, suffered frostbite from a lack of heating at Fuchu prison on the outskirts of Tokyo, where he is serving a sentence two years, according to his lawyers. .
Mr Taylor, 61, and his son, Peter, 28, who aided in the escape, pleaded guilty in June in a Tokyo court after being arrested in the United States and extradited. They are now awaiting approval from Japanese authorities as they seek to serve out the remainder of their sentence in a US prison.
Although Michael Taylor is one of Japan’s most high-profile convicts, his experience in its penal system is not unique. Japan has come under intense scrutiny at home and abroad for its treatment of prisoners and detainees, with critics pointing to inadequate medical care and an almost pervasive lack of heating and cooling that can lead to life-threatening illnesses. .
Since his conviction last year, Mr Taylor has been held in an unheated cell, sitting on a thin mat that offers little protection from the cold cement floor, one of his US-based lawyers said, Paul Kelly.
Mr Taylor’s frostbite developed while he was working in a prison factory, Mr Kelly said. Fuchu inmates are not allowed to wear gloves at work, he added, and they must wash their hands several times a day with cold water as part of the facility’s hygiene regime. .
A prison doctor diagnosed Mr Taylor with frostbite in January, according to Mr Kelly. His fingers had turned red and were starting to blister, the lawyer said.
Mr Taylor is unable to speak directly with his family or his US legal team, but he described the diagnosis to one of his Japanese lawyers during a recent prison visit. The attorney reported Mr. Taylor’s condition in emails to his family and Mr. Kelly.
“We are distraught,” said Lamia Taylor, Mr Taylor’s wife. “It’s serious now. It’s a health issue.”
Contacted by The New York Times, Japan’s prison department said it could not comment on individual cases, but prisoners were being provided with adequate clothing, blankets and medical care for the cold conditions.
A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Tokyo declined to comment on Mr Taylor, citing confidentiality considerations, but said the US had “long expressed concern to Japanese authorities about inadequate heating prisons and detention centres, and continue to encourage the authorities to improve conditions.
In recent weeks, as Mr Taylor and the other prisoners have been confined to their cells to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, he has had more access to blankets, allowing his condition to improve, said Mr Kelly.
Still, Mr Taylor’s experience highlights long-standing concerns about Japan’s prison system, which local activists have criticized as dangerous and overly punitive.
Yuko Shiota, spokesperson for the Center for Prisoners’ Rights, an advocacy organization that campaigns for prison reform in Japan, said prisoners were often diagnosed with frostbite, sometimes so severe it could lead to amputation.
“They say they have an insufficient budget and the problem has not improved,” she said of the lack of heating systems in prisons.
In the 2020 edition of its annual report on human rights in the world, the US State Department noted that in Japan “some prisons continue to lack adequate medical care and sufficient heating in winter or cooling in summer”.
The mistreatment of foreign prisoners and detainees in Japan has been highlighted in recent years by several cases in which the lack of adequate medical care has resulted in serious injury or even death.
Last spring, a young Sri Lankan woman died in a detention center in Nagoya after authorities repeatedly refused to grant her requests to be transferred to a hospital. A government inquiry into his death declined to assign blame but recommended reforms to the center’s medical procedures.
Fleeing Japan in 2019 just before the New Year, Mr Ghosn expressed his belief that the Japanese justice system would never give him a fair trial. He was out on bail after being arrested multiple times for financial wrongdoing – charges he said were products of corporate intrigue backed by the Japanese government.
Mr Taylor and his son helped him plan and execute his escape, including hiding in a box that was put on a flight first to Turkey and then to Beirut. Mr. Ghosn remained in Lebanon, safe from the threat of extradition, and he is trying to restore his image.
The Taylors returned to the United States, where the father shared with the media his story of helping Mr Ghosn flee. US authorities arrested the Taylors in the spring of 2020, acting on an extradition request from Japan.
They spent months fighting extradition, arguing in court that conditions in Japan amounted to torture. But they were handed over to Japan last March and tried three months later. Mr. Taylor was sentenced to two years in prison and his son to one year and eight months. Peter Taylor is being held in another prison.
In October, the United States approved the Taylors’ request to serve the remainder of their sentence in the US prison system. But the Japanese government is “dragging its heels”, Mr Kelly said.
An official from the Ministry of Justice of Japan said the transfer process usually takes at least a year.
Hisako Ueno contributed report.