Twenty-five former leprosy patients in Taiwan sued the Japanese government yesterday, demanding compensation for being forcibly segregated during Japan's occupation of the country.
The elderly plaintiffs, most of whom still live in a sanatorium built under Japanese rule, said they had been subjected during the occupation to hard labor, forced sterilizations and abortions.
Japan systematically isolated leprosy patients, often on remote islands, under an 89-year policy which was abolished in 1996 long after it was established that the disease was not contagious.
The Japanese parliament in 2001 approved up to ?14 million yen (US$133,000) for each of the hundreds of leprosy patients who suffered abuse by the state.
But the health ministry in October ruled that the compensation did not apply to people of other nationalities affected by the Japanese policy on leprosy.
Japan colonized Taiwan from 1895 to 1945.
"Why are we not entitled to compensation even though we were forcibly interned like patients inside Japan?" plaintiff Chen Shi-shi (陳石獅), 81, told reporters.
He said the plaintiffs, who are aged between 72 and 84, were regarded as "Japanese citizens" when they were forced to live like prisoners.
Many still live at the Taipei sanatorium, which was built in 1930 by the then office of Japan's governor general in Taiwan, according to the suit.
During colonial rule, the sanatorium was surrounded by barbed wire and the inmates were fed meager food and prevented from going outside, the suit said.
In August, 111 South Koreans filed a similar suit seeking compensation for being moved to a remote island during Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
In Japan, 13 former leprosy patients on the southern island of Kyushu won ?1.8 billion in damages in 2001 for their internment.
Around 4,800 elderly former leprosy patients still live in 13 state-run homes in Japan, having spent an average of 40 years in them.