AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL HOME BLOGS Death Penalty Information: Japan: Waiting for the hangman: New executions feared in Japan Jump to main content
Main navigation
language links Español Français Arabic

Section navigation

Death Penalty Information

Monday, December 18, 2006

Japan: Waiting for the hangman: New executions feared in Japan
Waiting for the hangman: New executions feared in Japan

No one knows when the executioner will come. In Japan, when a new day
dawns, 96 people ask themselves, 'Will this day be my last?'
All of them have been sentenced to die by hanging, but none of them know
their execution date. They only learn when they are going to die on the
morning of the execution.
For a few of the death-row inmates, that day might be near - and more
likely to occur after the Japanese Diet, or parliament, ends its current
session next week.
'It raises the possibility that executions will be carried out,' said
Makoto Teranaka, secretary general of Amnesty International in Japan.
Executions - the most recent of which was on September 16, 2005 - always
come when the Diet is not in session, which hinders debate on the death
penalty. Against this background, Japan's national bar association has
urged Justice Minister Jinen Nagase not to approve any executions.
The group warned the minister of the potential that innocent people could
be hanged and also pointed out the worldwide trend toward the abolition of
the death penalty. It urged the government to impose a moratorium on
executions so the necessity of such a sentence could be examined.
But just last month, Nagase said the government had no intention of
abolishing the death penalty and was not considering calls to implement
sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole because
'it might be linked with the abolition of capital punishment.'
Polls have shown that a large majority of the Japanese public approve of
the death penalty. Japan is one of the few industrialized countries that
retains it, and its use of the ultimate punishment, the secrecy
surrounding it and its prison conditions have been denounced by Amnesty
International and other human-rights groups for years.
Because of a drawn-out appeals process, prisoners sometimes wait decades
for their executions, leaving elderly prisoners among those living on
death row. The oldest is 86-year-old Ishida Tomizo, who had his request
for a retrial denied in 2004, 13 years after he submitted it.
According to human-rights activists, death-row inmates in Japan are housed
in solitary confinement and may not talk to other prisoners. Their contact
to the outside world is limited to occasional, supervised visits with
their closest relatives and their attorneys, the activists said.
Watching television or pursuing hobbies is also denied death-row
prisoners, and many endure their isolation only with the help of sleeping
pills, they added.
When the justice minister's execution order finally arrives, the prisoner
usually has only a few hours to live. The inmate's relatives hear of the
death only after the hanging.
To the public, the Justice Ministry only releases the number of the
execution. The name of the prisoner only is learned if his or her family
releases it.
The government defends the secrecy as protecting the family from shame.
Critics, however, accuse the government of a lack of transparency that
begets a lack of information for a public discussion over whether Japan
should retain the death penalty.
'As a first step towards abolition, we urge the Japanese government to end
the secrecy currently surrounding its use of the death penalty,' said Suki
Nagra, and East Asia campaigner for Amnesty International. 'The government
cannot justify this inhuman punishment on the basis of public opinion when
it conceals the reality of the death penalty from people and so stymies
public debate.'
(source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur)
The views expressed in these pages are those of individual AI campaigners or researchers, and do not necessarily reflect official AI policy.