Huang Chin-liang (
Were it not for her appeal against the Tokyo court's ruling that rejected compensation for former inmates, the 77-year-old Huang would not have ventured outside Happy Life Leprosy Hospital in Sinjhuang, Taipei County -- the former prison hospital she now calls home.
"I thought I should go and ask for an apology," she murmured.
Huang is one of twenty-five elderly Taiwanese lepers who sued the Japanese government last year for compensation. The government, however, rejected their case on the grounds of the patients' nationality.
"The court in Tokyo said that the plaintiffs were not Japanese. Therefore their rights were not protected by the Law on Compensation for Hanson's Disease Patients," said Wu Jia-zhen (
"But the court forgot that it was their government that first forced these lepers into confinement during Japan's occupation of Taiwan," Wu said.
The Japanese parliament in 2001 approved up to ?14 million (US$133,000) each for hundreds of leprosy patients who suffered abuse at the hands of the state.
A court in the southwestern town of Kumamoto ruled that the 1953 Leprosy Prevention Law, repealed in 1996, violated the plaintiffs' human rights. The court's verdict said the state should be held responsible for its failure to change the policy of isolating leprosy patients after 1960, when a new antibiotic therapy made outpatient treatment possible.
Since the landmark 2001 ruling, a total of nearly 800 former patients have joined in legal action against the law in different parts of Japan.
Nonetheless, the Japanese health ministry in October last year ruled that the compensation did not apply to people of other nationalities, such as 117 South Koreans who were relocated to a remote island during Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula.
"Why are we not entitled to compensation when we were forcibly imprisoned like patients in Japan?" said 81-year-old plaintiff Chen Shih-shih (
Some patients endured hard labor, forced sterilizations and forced abortions in their youth.
Huang is a living witness to Japanese brutality. Despite marrying another patient in the Happy Life Leprosy Hospital, she never came to know what it is like to be a mother.
"My husband went through ligation surgery before our wedding," Huang recalled.
Physical suffering is still etched vividly in the former lepers' memories.
"They only fed us meager amounts of food. A small bowl of rice porridge with salt -- that was breakfast. Miso soup was considered a feast," Chen said.
Many lepers still live at the Happy Life Leprosy Hospital, which was built in 1930 by the Japanese governor-general's office. At that time the hospital was surrounded by barbed wire and inmates were shot if they tried to flee across the stone wall.
The elders, whose average age is over 80, have little confidence in winning their case before they die.
"I feel like we are fighting a losing battle," Huang said.