'Japanese' man wrongly held eight years in Bahamas freed The Japan Times: March 13, 2006

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) A man suffering from amnesia but who claims to be Japanese was unlawfully held in a Bahamas prison and an immigration center for eight years without being charged, a court has ruled. A man identified in court documents as Atain Takitota, 41, was awarded $ 500,000, 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 told officials that he arrived in the Bahamas from Osaka in August 1992 and soon lost more than $ 7,000 at a casino, then realized that his luggage, which held his passport and the rest of his money, had been stolen. Police arrested him that night, 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 by going on hunger strike in 1997 and by slashing his wrists twice in 1998, but he was returned to detention after each attempt. The judges said the medical staff at Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre in Nassau determined he was suffering from retrograde amnesia, losing memory of things before a traumatic event. Atain has testified that he had suffered head injuries in a traffic accident about a year before he left Japan. It's not clear if Atain forgot who he was, but the Japanese Embassy in the Dominican Republic said initial investigations in 1994 did not identify him as a Japanese citizen. The embassy asked Bahamian authorities to contact them if there was more information, but the court said there was no evidence that officials sent any information. Atain was released in October 2000. He filed a lawsuit that year against Bahamas' attorney general, immigration director and national security minister, alleging he was being arbitrarily held. The Bahamas Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that Atain had entered the country illegally and awarded him $ 1,000 for his unlawful detention. Even then, authorities appeared unsure of Atain's nationality. Two Chinese students at a local school testified that Atain may be a Chinese national, although an officer from the Chinese Embassy in the Bahamas had said in 1998 he thought the man was "Japanese because he spoke only Japanese and a little broken English," the appeal panel said. Phone calls on Saturday to Atain's attorney, A.D. Hanna Sr., the Bahamas governor general, were not immediately returned.