TOKYO, March 7 — The family of a Sri Lankan woman who died in Japanese immigration detention sued the government on Friday, in a high-profile case that has reignited calls to reform conditions in the system.

Wishma Sandamali, 33, died a year ago while detained for overstaying her visa after seeking police protection, reportedly to escape an abusive relationship.

She had allegedly complained of stomach pain and other symptoms for several weeks, and a government probe into her death concluded she received inadequate treatment as her health deteriorated.

Her death at a facility in the central city of Nagoya prompted the justice minister last year to apologise and pledge to improve medical provision to detainees.

Sandamali’s family sued the national government on Friday, their lawyer’s office told AFP without giving details. Local media reported the family was seeking ¥156 million (RM5.67 million) in damages.

Carrying a framed photograph of Sandamali, her younger sister told reporters she was bracing for a long wait for further information.

“I’m very sad that we had to take legal action to find out what happened to my elder sister,” she said in the Sinhala language.

“Litigation means a process that will take a few more years. That means I have to wait a few more years to find out the reason for my elder sister’s death.

“I am truly sad that it had to come to this.”

Rights campaigners have long criticised conditions at Japanese detention centres, including how guards respond to medical emergencies.

Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa on Friday offered condolences to her family and vowed to prevent a recurrence. 

Sandamali’s death “never should have happened in a facility entrusted with the lives of detainees”, he told reporters.

Last summer, former justice minister Yoko Kamikawa said the probe had not conclusively determined the cause of death, but found the detention centre “lacked a system to assess the health of detainees and provide medical services”.

Japan’s ruling lawmakers also last year dropped a controversial push to make it easier to deport unsuccessful asylum seekers following opposition pressure. — AFP