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Court says Japan government owes compensation to families of leprosy patients

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TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese court on Friday ordered the government to pay compensation to the families of leprosy patients who suffered discrimination and mistreatment because of government policies that violated their constitutional rights.

Until 1996, a law forced people diagnosed with leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease as it is now known, to live in isolated sanatoriums, some surrounded by high fences and guard towers, despite the fact that the illness has been curable for decades.

More than 500 relatives of former patients sued the government this year, demanding damages of 5.5 million yen (40,274.3 pounds) each and an apology to be printed in newspapers for the suffering, arguing that, among other things, family ties were destroyed.

The government responded that the law had targeted only patients and was not responsible for any trouble encountered by their families.

A court in the southwestern city of Kumamoto on Friday found in favour of the families, awarding a total of 370 million yen ($3.4 million).

In 2001, the same court awarded damages to 127 leprosy patients who had sued the government, saying in its judgement that the policy was unconstitutional since the disease had been curable for decades.

The then prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, did not appeal the ruling and apologised. Parliament later adopted a resolution accepting responsibility.

But stigma remained, with some former leprosy patients choosing to remain in the sanatoria long after they were free to leave.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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