TOKYO (AP) — The former head of a Japan-China friendship group who recently returned to Japan from six years in a Beijing prison for what he said were false spying charges said he still hopes to see China become a global leader but with better treatment of human rights.
Hideji Suzuki, former president of the Japan-China Youth Exchange Association, said he devoted himself to promoting friendship between the two countries and visited China more than 200 times since the 1980s.
He said he was seized at Beijing's airport as he was leaving the country in July 2016 and placed in confinement under constant surveillance for seven months before being formally arrested and moved to a detention center.
He was indicted in June 2017 on spying charges and accused of being a representative of a Japanese intelligence agency and of discussing North Korea with a senior Japanese diplomat.
During the initial confinement, he said the windows in his room were covered and he saw daylight for only 15 minutes during the seven months. No books or writing paper were provided, and he was not allowed to see a lawyer or contact the Japanese Embassy, Suzuki said.
Suzuki said at a news conference in Tokyo that confinement of suspects prior to formal arrest in China is “an extremely serious human rights problem.”
Suzuki is one of more than a dozen Japanese citizens who have been detained by Chinese authorities since 2015, a year after China introduced a counterespionage law to track foreign spies and Chinese citizens who help them, according to Japan's Foreign Ministry.
Suzuki said his trial was closed and lasted only one session, without a lawyer and only an “incompetent” interpreter. Despite seven letters of appeals he wrote to a judge, he was sentenced to six years in prison in May 2019 and ordered to leave China after his release. After an appeal a year later was dismissed, Suzuki was transferred to a Beijing jail to serve the remainder of his time until his release in mid-October to return home.
As China becomes more affluent, China's Communist leadership is afraid that people will start seeking more freedom, Suzuki said. He said he worries that they may intensify a crackdown on protests, including recent rallies against China's strict anti-COVID-19 measures.
“The Communist Party is afraid of people seeking freedom of expression and assembly,” Suzuki said. “I suspect they will step up efforts to suppress protests."
Despite his ordeal, Suzuki said he has not become “anti-China” and hopes to see it become a healthier country and a global leader in the future.
“What China lacks the most is an awareness of how it is perceived by the rest of the world,” he said. “So I am talking about my experience to raise awareness about the problems in China."