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Chika Honda
December 11, 2004 3:07 AM   Subscribe

In 1992 Chika Honda was a 36-year-old Japanese woman who accepted an offer from a regular customer, Mistuo at the pub she worked nights in, to join him and his brothers on a holiday to Australia - her first ever overseas trip. During a stopover in Kuala Lumpur their suitcases were stolen. Charlie, a business associate of Mistuo, offered to sort everything out and returned the next morning with their belongings in a new set of suitcases, claiming their luggage had been slashed with a knife. When the group arrived in Melbourne, customs found 13kg of heroin in the lining of their suitcases. Chika and the others were arrested, investigated, charged and later tried and sentenced.

Chika was eventually released and deported in 2002 after having served 10 years in Victorian prisons. She still maintains her innocence. Several documentaries about this case, known in Japan as the Melbourne Incident have been aired in Japan but very little coverage has been given in Australia. In one of the documentaries, Charlie completely exonerates Chika (PDF : See page 5). In 2002, her Japanese lawyers filed a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva to clear her name. Two years later and nothing has yet been achieved. The Australian government still admits no miscarriage of justice.

But she'll be right mate, we Aussies know what we're doing.
posted by DirtyCreature (34 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting story, but this just cries out for a [more inside].

Brevity, please, on the FP.
posted by jpburns at 3:55 AM on December 11, 2004


Moral of this story: don't go on vacations with strange men you've met in a pub, regardless of how much they drink there.
posted by mstefan at 4:39 AM on December 11, 2004


The crafting of this post reminds me of one of those movie trailers you see and afterwards think, "Well, I've pretty much seen that movie now, haven't I?"

Intersting story though, for sure. I dig her name.
posted by Witty at 5:18 AM on December 11, 2004


This is not some movie, "dude". This is a real person's life - one from which ten years was stolen with no acknowledgement, apology or compensation from the system that stole it from her.
posted by DirtyCreature at 5:29 AM on December 11, 2004


Thanks for this, DirtyCreature - this is the first I've ever heard of Chika Honda. I used to work for the Victorian Supreme Court/Court of Appeal, and even met some of the Justices involved in the case, although not until 1998 by which time the appeal was over. I'm reading all this with fascination.

There's something about a system that cannot face its own errors that gets my goat. Unfortunately it's an attitude particularly prevalent in the legal industry.
posted by Ritchie at 6:03 AM on December 11, 2004


There's something about a system that cannot face its own errors that gets my goat. Unfortunately it's an attitude particularly prevalent in the legal industry.

I'm not sure that Japan really has the best position from which to argue that other countries should apologize for their past mistakes...
posted by allan at 6:17 AM on December 11, 2004


Uh, DirtyCreature, I think the movie comment was in reference to the fact that the post is so explicit and explanatory that there might not be too much desire to actually click the links and read more. In that sense, it's like a movie preview that gives away the whole movie.

Allan:

"There's something about a system that cannot face its own errors that gets my goat. Unfortunately it's an attitude particularly prevalent in the legal industry."

I'm not sure that Japan really has the best position from which to argue that other countries should apologize for their past mistakes...


I don't think anyone here is taking that position.
posted by Bugbread at 6:21 AM on December 11, 2004


mstefan: eheh when does the men or women becomes less strange, when one meets their apparently sane family ? :)

Very interesting link...some cherry picking here and there

The trip was partly funded by a Malay-Chinese businessman called "Charlie", with whom Yoshio had business dealings

So Yoshio is business "buddy" of Charlie,

The notion of giving or accepting substantial gifts is common in Japan. "Please understand the difference between our Japanese culture and the Australian culture," says Mr Yamashita. "Although they were attracted by a free tour, it is not such a special thing for Japanese people."

Is it ? Japafites confirm please ?

The group was travelling to Melbourne via Kuala Lumpur, where they met Charlie. It is here, according to the lawyers, that things went horribly wrong. Their bags were stolen and damaged, and they accepted replacement suitcases from Yoshio's "embarrassed" Malaysian contact, Charlie.

Ohhh brilliant, in a "evil" way. The guy knows the japanese attachment to embarassement (don't laugh each population got their own oddities) so it doesn't seem strange to the japanese when they're offered new luggage, nut the luggage is a trojan horse !

The average cheap european/american would have looked at that with suspicion (but I guess they would have been scammed as well) ...to the japs it looks only very polite.
posted by elpapacito at 6:35 AM on December 11, 2004


"I'm not sure that Japan really has the best position from which to argue that other countries should apologize for their past mistakes..." -- Allan

If you choose to see it this way, that's fine. But I did not make my statement on behalf of Japan, or even Chika Honda, but as one of the people the system is meant to defend and represent. If it serves me, then I'm obliged to hold it to some kind of standard.
posted by Ritchie at 6:54 AM on December 11, 2004


The notion of giving or accepting substantial gifts is common in Japan. "Please understand the difference between our Japanese culture and the Australian culture," says Mr Yamashita. "Although they were attracted by a free tour, it is not such a special thing for Japanese people."

Is it ? Japafites confirm please ?


Not a Japafite, but an expat living in Japan...Hmm...It's a tough question. First, the direct answer: It IS a special thing to get a free trip to Melbourne. An incredibly big deal special thing. That said, I would say that Japanese, overall (not every person, but overall) are more trusting and less suspicious than many other nationalities. So, to that end, I can see Honda as finding the trip very special, but not sketchy.

Also, historically speaking, Japan had just been through the bubble, which ended in 1990, and people may have been more used to profligate spending than they are now. I wouldn't be surprised if attitudes towards crazy expensive gifts were much more relaxed back then.
posted by Bugbread at 7:03 AM on December 11, 2004


Which one of those links would I have to read to figure out why this was such a huge miscarriage of justice? "No, really, I'm innocent, even though I had a whole bunch of drugs in my luggage," doesn't sound like reasonable doubt to me.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:32 AM on December 11, 2004


I'm not sure that Japan really has the best position from which to argue that other countries should apologize for their past mistakes...

Well then either does the United States, so I guess you guys are even.
posted by Robot Johnny at 7:53 AM on December 11, 2004


Is this not the one case where answering "yes" to the question "did anyone else pack your bags for you?" might have averted the problem?!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 7:53 AM on December 11, 2004


We need the death penalty for people like Chika Honda. That way, the world will be a safer place.
posted by trharlan at 8:59 AM on December 11, 2004


jacquilynne, you sound irritated. In the fifth link, for example, you will find this:
Earlier this year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee recommended that Australian judicial authorities initiate a retrial in response to individual petitions filed by the five. The courts have yet to respond to the request.

The committee judged there were problematic criminal procedures in the case, especially poor translations.

During the police interrogations and the trial, publicly appointed translators for the five could not adequately understand either Japanese or English -- or both -- on many occasions, giving the jury the impression that the five were lying or trying to hide information, their lawyers said.
It doesn't really take a huge bound of imagination to picture yourself in some similar situation, does it? Something, somehow, is slipped into your bags, and you find yourself on trial in a strange country, charged in a language you don't understand?
posted by taz at 9:42 AM on December 11, 2004


Irritated? Not particularly. But I read the first link that had any content (since the actual first link was to nothing more than a passport photo) and didn't see a compelling reason why I should be even vaguely surprised by this. I was rather hoping that one of the 15 supplied links might actually be more useful than the others and that someone, say, perhaps, the original poster, might be able to tell me which one.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:04 AM on December 11, 2004


Ignorance of smugglers using you as a mule is no excuse.
After all we're talking about (shark music) HEROIN!! here.
(Throws hand across forehead, faints.)
posted by telstar at 10:07 AM on December 11, 2004


This is tangential, but while we're on the subject of Australian human rights violations: refugee concentration camps on isolated Pacific islands. I don't think many Americans know about this; it really seems to offend common decency.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:13 AM on December 11, 2004


I don't think Japan has a very good record with its own justice system.
posted by SpaceCadet at 10:19 AM on December 11, 2004


this just in! we're winning the war on drugs!
posted by blendor at 10:52 AM on December 11, 2004


the original poster, might be able to tell me which one

You're caught with 13kg of heroin in your luggage. Prove you're innocent. In some sense you're not. It's your luggage. You made assurances when you flew about who packed your luggage. But you're a quiet, trusting person who has never been overseas before and you trusted the wrong people. If all this is true, do you deserve ten years in prison in a country you've never been to before for this?

Unfortunately, the original ABC audio story which was published here was no longer available. The story which was recently nominated for a Walkley Award for excellence in journalism details how the translator assigned to Chika made several glaring errors in her testimony, how Chika's respectfulness and desire to protect her family's name was misinterpreted, how Chika joined the tour at the last minute, how her Australian female inmates came to unanimously agree she was innocent, how Charlie who was later caught completely exonerated her, how naturally convincing Chika (who picked up some English in her 10 years in jail) is in explaining her story and how she has nothing to gain now protesting her innocence now that she is released and how famous her the case is in the upper echelons of Japanese legal circles.

I am reliably informed that the Chika story will be aired again in January 2005 and consequently the audio of the story should be available on ABC's Radio Eye website. It will become abundantly clear after listening to this even to the most skeptical listener that Chika is innocent. If you want more information about her plight the best people to talk to are Mayu Kanamori who made a musical documentary about Chika's experience and Professor Paul Wilson who is volunteering his time at no expense along with Professor Eric Colvin to prepare an application for a pardon from the Australian government for Chika.

Disclaimer : I am in no way whatsoever connected to this case or to any of the above mentioned people. I just heard the original ABC story back in February, did some background reading and emailing and vowed I had to help in some way one day if I could.
posted by DirtyCreature at 11:00 AM on December 11, 2004


I just received a note from a friend who says that Mayu Kanamori told him that the UN Human Rights Commission wrote to the Australian government asking for their explanation. The Australian government have recently responded that the responsibilities lie with Chika's original lawyers (the free legal aid people in Melbourne) and not the Australian government.
posted by DirtyCreature at 11:16 AM on December 11, 2004


mstefan: eheh when does the men or women becomes less strange, when one meets their apparently sane family?

Well, at least something beyond a casual relationship with someone you've met in a bar. My motto is simple: only trust those people who know that you know where they've buried the bodies. :)
posted by mstefan at 11:47 AM on December 11, 2004


Wasn't there a movie about this sort of thing, only in Thailand. And for that matter, what about the mandatory sentencing of drug trafficers in Thailand, or better yet, the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficers in Singapore?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:47 PM on December 11, 2004


C_D, yes there was a movie: Brokedown Palace.

mr_roboto: somehow I think your characterization is just a tad over the top. Further, while it is off-topic and I don't want to start a whole debate here, why does a country, such as Australia in this instance, become responsible for people simply because they turn up on one's doorstep?

I'm a little unsure of what the overall point is here since the woman was released two years ago. Does Australia (Japan, US, Thailand, etc...) have an imperfect legal system? Things made by humans almost without exception always are.
posted by billsaysthis at 4:50 PM on December 11, 2004


"... why does a country, such as Australia in this instance, become responsible for people simply because they turn up on one's doorstep?" -- billsaysthis

In brief, because refugees are given a protected status in international law - the 1951 Convention, and the 1967 Protocol. Australia (among many other countries) is a signatory.
posted by Ritchie at 5:23 PM on December 11, 2004


Why all the Japan bashing? Yes, Japan has comitted some pretty horrible human rights violations, but does that mean than Austrailia--or any other country for that matter--gets a free pass?
posted by zardoz at 6:02 PM on December 11, 2004


Another tangent- Here's a recent parallel story about an Austalian student charged with drug possession in Bali.
posted by dhruva at 7:17 PM on December 11, 2004


By the way, the Azaria Chamberlain story linked in the final line of this post is absolutely horrifying.
posted by felix betachat at 1:31 AM on December 12, 2004


By the way, the Azaria Chamberlain story linked in the final line of this post is absolutely horrifying

This story was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep. The most horrifying thing about it is Lindy Chamberlain would still be in jail if it wasn't for the efforts of her church. The Australian public and media were such a united unit at this time with very little capacity for self-examination. Who knows how many unnamed others without support netowrks have been incarcerated by the false judgements of the majority and their messengers.

Chika Honda appears to be another of them.
posted by DirtyCreature at 2:05 AM on December 12, 2004


Why all the Japan bashing? Yes, Japan has comitted some pretty horrible human rights violations, but does that mean than Austrailia--or any other country for that matter--gets a free pass?

I think the point is that Japan is particularly bad when it comes to human rights issues (particularly where gaikokujin are concerned).
posted by SpaceCadet at 6:50 AM on December 12, 2004


DirtyCreature, might I ask why you made reference to those other cases (Lindy Chamberlain etc.) in the last line of the post? I can't see what they have to do with this, any more than the entirely irrelevant comments in this thread about Japan's justice system.
posted by Prince Nez at 7:19 AM on December 12, 2004


Why all the Japan bashing? Yes, Japan has comitted some pretty horrible human rights violations, but does that mean than Austrailia--or any other country for that matter--gets a free pass?

People dig tu quoque arguments.
posted by Bugbread at 8:01 AM on December 12, 2004


might I ask why you made reference to those other cases
Nothing more than a pointed jibe aimed at those who believe the system is infallible - or who believe that the system does make mistakes but will always correct those mistakes without intervention of a groundswell of concerned ordinary citizens.
posted by DirtyCreature at 4:03 PM on December 12, 2004


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