An Australian father thrown in jail during a desperate search for his missing children in Japan says he was tortured, threatened and told he was "subhuman" during his incarceration.

Freelance sports journalist Scott McIntyre spent 45 hellish days behind bars — including a stint at a notorious detention centre where death row prisoners are executed in Japan — while awaiting trial on trespassing charges.

McIntyre was arrested in November while trying to track down his two young children, who he alleges were abducted by their Japanese mother, following a recent breakdown in the couple's marriage.

The 46-year-old says he has been unable to contact his 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son since May last year when his wife took them to stay the night at her parents' Tokyo home and never returned.


The children, who were born and raised in Sydney before the family's 2015 move to Japan, were taken out of their school and had their names and contact details changed without their father's consent.

"I have no idea if my children are still in Japan or abroad. I have no idea if they are dead or alive," McIntyre told while choking back tears.

After begging police 12 times to carry out a welfare check on the youngsters — to no avail — McIntyre entered a common area of his estranged in-laws' apartment complex seeking information on their wellbeing after a massive typhoon ripped through the area in October.

McIntyre said he had followed another resident inside, checked to see if there were any of his children's things outside the door of his in-laws' apartment and left.

A month later he was arrested and charged with unlawful entry. He spent the next month in a tiny, overcrowded cell at a remand centre before being transferred to Tokyo Detention House, a facility Amnesty International has labelled "cruel, inhuman and degrading".

Ex-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn spent more than four months there — an experience he described as "dehumanising" — before smuggling himself out of the country inside a large musical instrument case on a private jet last month.

"I was subject to the same situation as Ghosn, subject to the use of 24-hour light in my cell, which is classified by both the United Nations and Amnesty International as a method of torture," McIntyre told

"On three separate occasions I asked to make a formal complaint that I was being tortured and I was told that there was nothing that would be done and that if I complained further, I would be placed either in solitary confinement or in a straitjacket."


McIntyre said inmates were permitted one hour of exercise each day — 15 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes at lunchtime and 15 minutes in the afternoon — with the remainder spent locked in their cells.

Prison rules ban inmates from standing or moving around unless exercising or using the toilet so McIntyre was forced to spend his time sitting cross-legged on a mat or sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder with his cellmates.

The freelance sports journalist was behind bars for 45 days. Photo/ AP
The freelance sports journalist was behind bars for 45 days. Photo/ AP

"We weren't allowed to stand up for 23 hours a day and the cell wouldn't have been more than five or six metres long and three wide, shared with three or sometimes four other prisoners," he told

"You're not allowed visitors for the first three days. After that people can visit you for 20 minutes a day. You're allowed one shower every five or six days and they force you to shave.

"Every time you move around the facility you are not permitted to look anywhere but straight ahead. If you go into an elevator you have to face the back wall so you never see where you are going and are confused about your location.

"If you break the rules by looking to the left or right — anywhere except straight ahead — the guards would scream and yell at you. I was told we were not considered humans. We were subhuman, worth less than animals."


On January 10, after pleading guilty to trespass, McIntyre was freed on bail. On Wednesday he was given a six-month sentence, suspended for three years, meaning he will not serve time if his conduct remains good during this period.

Now he is lobbying the Japanese government to introduce joint custody laws, which he says will help end the country's parental child abduction problem, while continuing his mission to find his children.

Lawyers and legal experts say Japan effectively condones the act of abduction regardless of whether domestic violence is involved, and parents who are deprived of contact with their children face the threat of arrest if they try to retrieve or see them.

Though Japan is a signatory to The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, it is notorious for noncompliance.

McIntyre remains married, has no restraining order against him and retains full parental rights. He has denied using violence against his daughter.

His wife's legal representative Jun Kajita told Reuters he could not divulge details of the case but some aspects of McIntyre's claims were "not consistent". has contacted Kajita for comment.


McIntyre claims at least 100 Australian children from between 20 and 30 families have been abducted by a Japanese parent over the past 10 years, never to be seen again.

Those who have lost their children this way are known as "Left-Behind Parents" or LBPs for short.

The figure is much higher locally, with as many as 100,000 Japanese children taken without the consent of one parent following an acrimonious split, each year.

Non-profit organisation Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion estimates that around 150,000 children lose contact with a parent each year because of estrangement. Police are often either powerless or unwilling to intervene with such disputes labelled a "family matter".

"For anyone outside Japan, it's a crazy system," opposition politician Seiichi Kushida, who has been fighting for a joint-custody system in parliament, told Reuters.

Similar cases involving European parents have prompted the French and Italian leaders, Emmanuel Macron and Giuseppe Conte, to raise the issue with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the organisation reports.


McIntyre now wants the Australian government to intervene as Japan prepares to host the world's athletes for the Olympic Games.

"Last year myself and other members of the Australian LBP community in Australia wrote directly to the foreign affairs minister and the prime minister of Australia and we received not a single response," he said.

"We are talking about 100 Australian children — and that's a very conservative estimate — who have been abducted by a Japanese spouse in Japan or (taken from Australia) to Japan.

"If there was a busload of Australian schoolchildren who were kidnapped or abducted in another country it would be a huge issue. Can you imagine?

"These are 100 Australian citizens who are being denied their history, their language, their culture and their identity because they've been abducted with the support of the state and I think most Australians would find that unacceptable.

"We want the Australian government to stand with other foreign governments such as France and Italy, and say directly to the leadership of Japan that the nation's international reputation is being damaged.


"This is a country that's holding a major sporting event later this year. Already we have heard Carlos Ghosn say 'no foreigner should ever visit Japan'.

"Why should European nations give Japanese visas to visit their country when Japan is kidnapping our children with impunity and nothing is happening?"