Osaka teacher indicted over death of student

OSAKA - A former high school teacher was indicted Thursday by the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office over the death of a student he had subjected to corporal punishment the day before.

Prosecutors indicted Hajime Komura, 47, a former teacher at Osaka municipal Sakuranomiya High School, without arresting him, on suspicion of assault and causing injury in the death of the boy, then 17 and in his second year of high school.

The boy was captain of the basketball club, which was coached by Komura. The teacher was later dismissed from the school.

It is rare for schoolteachers to be criminally indicted over corporal punishment.

According to the written indictment, Komura repeatedly slapped the boy's head and face on Dec. 18 with an open palm because he thought the boy did not play hard enough in a practice match in the school's gym. On Dec. 22, Komura allegedly slapped the student's head and face about a dozen times, again with an open palm, because he was irritated when the student did not answer his harsh questions about the boy's playing in another practice match.

Investigation sources said Komura injured the student's mouth. Komura has admitted he slapped the student, the sources said.

On Dec. 23, the student committed suicide at his home, leaving a letter in which he complained about the corporal punishment.

The Osaka municial board of education revealed the corporal punishment and the suicide in January. In February, the board dismissed Komura. The Osaka prefectural police referred Komura to prosecutors by sending documents and attaching a letter urging "strict punishment."

The prosecutors office alleges that a strict hierarchy existed in the club and that Komura inflicted corporal punishment on a regular basis in front of other club members. Prosecutors also decided to pursue a criminal trial because the student's family strongly demanded punishment and due to the incident's significant impact on society.

Law not stopping punishment

One reason why the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office took the rare step of indicting a teacher who inflicted corporal punishment is that such punishment continues to occur even though the School Education Law prohibits it.

Witnesses said the student who committed suicide suffered split lips and swollen cheeks.

Strictly from the point of view of his injuries, the wounds were not that serious, making it a delicate question whether a criminal trial should be held. One senior prosecutor said, "A summary indictment or suspension of indictment was possible."

But a probe by a third-party group of the city government into the student's suicide found that Komura had imposed corporal punishment on a regular basis since he became coach of the basketball club in 1994.

In addition, similar problems of corporal punishment by teachers have been revealed across the nation.

According to an interim report released in April by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, there were 840 cases of corporal punishment at 752 public primary, middle and high schools nationwide from April last year to the end of January this year. The result found that a total of 1,890 students received such treatment.

In a final report about the issue likely to be compiled soon, the number is predicted to be higher.

Based on the situation, the prosecutors office judged it necessary to eliminate corporal punishment from schools, according to investigation sources.

In the criminal trial, prosecutors will seek to prove the details of the corporal punishment inflicted on the student and the course of events that drove him to suicide.