The execution of two death row inmates in Japan shows that a “chilling” escalation of death penalty use under the new Liberal Democratic government is intensifying, Amnesty International said.
Yoshihide Miyagi, 56, and Katsuji Hamasaki, 64, were hanged in Tokyo today. The two men were convicted of murder after shooting dead rival gang members in a restaurant in Ichihara City in 2005.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has now executed five people since taking office in December 2012. The other three executions took place in February.
“This chilling news appears to reinforce our fears that the new government is increasing the pace of executions at an alarming rate,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.
“With five executions already this year, it seems clear the government has no intention of heeding international calls to start a genuine and open public debate on the death penalty, including its abolition.”
Japan has executed 12 people since March 2012. No executions had been carried out during the previous 20 months.
Ten people were hanged in less than a year during Shinzo Abe’s previous time as Prime Minister between September 2006 and September 2007.
Current Justice MinisterSadakazu Tanigaki has publicly expressed his support for the death penalty, raising concerns that figure may be surpassed by the new government.
“We urge the government to immediately reverse this worrying trend and impose a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its eventual abolition,” said Catherine Baber.
The number of death row inmates, at 134, is at one of the highest levels in Japan in over half a century.
Prisoners are typically given a few hours’ notice before execution, but some may be given no warning at all. Their families are typically notified about the execution only after it has taken place.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
Japan has carried out three executions – the first since the country’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was elected last December, and a sign that Tokyo will defy international pressure to abolish the death penalty.
The justice ministry said the executions were carried out in the early hours of Thursday in three different locations. One of the condemned men, Kaoru Kobayashi, had been sentenced to death for the abduction, sexual assault and murder of a seven-year-old schoolgirl in 2004. He sent a photograph of the murdered girl to her mother.
The executions, the first since September 2012, could signal a return to more regular hangings under the current justice minister, Sadakazu Tanigaki.
“I ordered the executions after giving them careful consideration,” Tanigaki told reporters. “These were extremely cruel cases in which the victims had their precious lives taken away for very selfish reasons.”
Amnesty International Japan condemned the executions. “The Japanese government cannot be excused from abiding by international human rights standards, just by citing opinion among the public,” it said in a statement. Opinion polls put support for capital punishment among the Japanese at about 80%.
Earlier this year Tanigaki indicated he would have no hesitation in signing execution orders; some previous holders of the post had refused to approve them, leading to a de facto moratorium.
“I will have to do what needs to be done according to the rule of law,” he told journalists, adding that the secrecy surrounding hangings would continue. Inmates are given very little notice before they are led to the gallows and their families are informed only after the executions have taken place.
“Even death row inmates have guarantees of privacy and we have to consider the feelings of their relatives,” Tanigaki said. “I don’t think it is necessarily a good idea to release more information.”
At the end of last year Japan had 133 inmates on death row, the highest number since records were first kept in 1949. They include Shoko Asahara, leader of the doomsday cult behind the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in which 13 people died and thousands were made ill.
The previous government, led by the left-of centre Democratic party of Japan (DPJ), executed nine people during its three years and three months in office. That included an 18-month period from July 2010 in which no hangings took place. In the three years to 2008 there were 28 executions under LDP administrations.
The DPJ raised hopes among abolitionists in 2010 when it established a panel to look into Japan’s use of capital punishment but the body was disbanded without reaching a conclusion in January 2012.
Japan, which along with the US is the only major industrialised country to retain the death penalty, has come under mounting pressure to abandon it.
In December the UN adopted a resolution calling on Japan and other countries to impose a moratorium on capital punishment and to be more transparent about executions.
Japan hanged three convicted murderers on Feb. 21 in the first executions since the conservative administration led by Shinzo Abe swept to power in December.
Making the announcement, a grim-faced Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said he gave careful consideration to signing the death warrants but declined to explain why the three were singled out.
“I cannot discuss individual cases,” he said.
The executions, the first since September when two people were hanged under the previous administration headed by the Democratic Party of Japan, leave 134 inmates on death row.
Tanigaki made it clear when he took office that he favors the death penalty.
“There are various reasons I feel this way,” he said. “One reason is out of consideration for the bereaved families. It is an extremely grave sentence that deprives a person of his or her life. I’m convinced anew that a justice minister should fully consider a court’s ruling and then decide whether to carry out the sentence.”
The condemned were hanged at separate locations.
Kaoru Kobayashi, 44, was sentenced to death for the abduction and slaying of a 7-year-old girl in Nara in November 2004, and hanged in Osaka.
Masahiro Kanagawa, 29, was sentenced to death for fatally stabbing a 72-year-old man in Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture, on March 19, 2008. Four days later, he also fatally stabbed a 27-year-old man and injured seven others in the same city. He was hanged in Tokyo.
Keiki Kano, 62, was sentenced to death for slaying a 61-year-old bar madam in Nagoya in March 2002 and stealing money from her. Kano was hanged in Nagoya.
Although Kobayashi’s lawyers had appealed the death sentence handed down by a lower court, his sentence was finalized after he withdrew his appeal.
Kobayashi in 2007 fought his decision to withdraw the appeal, saying it was not valid. But the Supreme Court decided not to review the case in December 2009.
Kanagawa also had his sentence finalized after he withdrew an appeal against a lower court ruling filed by his lawyers.
Kano was handed a life sentence by a lower court, but was sentenced to death on appeal to a high court. His sentence was finalized by the Supreme Court, which noted he had previously served prison time in a murder case.
Under the previous LDP administration, a death row inmate was executed every two to three months on average.
The pace accelerated under justice ministers Jinen Nagase and Kunio Hatoyama.
Ten people were executed during the 11 months Nagase was in office, while Hatoyama signed execution orders for 13 death row inmates during the 11 months he served in the post.
No hangings were carried out in 2011, the first 12-month period in 19 years without an execution. The DPJ had replaced the LDP as the governing party two years earlier and called for a nationwide debate on the merits of the death penalty.
Nine people were executed between September 2009 and December 2012, when the DPJ held power.
A government poll released in 2010 found that 85.6 percent of respondents said they were in favor of the death penalty.
After a high-level conference on the abolition of the death penalty in Tokyo on October 29th, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council examined Japan’s record on October 31st as part of the Universal Periodic Review, a worldwide mechanism to monitor the enforcement of human rights. Major Japanese infringements concern the use of the death penalty.
A far-reching panel of activists, lawyers, clerics, academics, artists, former death row inmates and diplomats from inside and outside Japan took part in a public event at Tokyo’s Italian Cultural Centre on October 29 to discuss the theme “No justice without life – the death penalty in a globalized world” (photo). The Community of Sant’Egidio, a World Coalition member organisation, organised the event. Its spokesman Mario Marazziti told the audience that “Japan should follow the world trend on the issue” of the abolition of capital punishment. He described the conference as “incredibly interesting and promising, connecting many of the Japanese groups, some social, cultural and political and religious forces” in the debate about the death penalty.
Very few people in the world know that Japan is one of the few democracies that still carries out executions. Find out more about the Japanese death penalty situation with these key facts compiled by the Advocates for Human Rights, another World Coalition member organisation:
What is the latest news about capital punishment in Japan? On September 27, 2012, Japan executed two death row inmates. These were the sixth and seventh executions of 2012. 131 prisoners remain on death row. The Justice Ministry recently disclosed documents shedding light on the administrative process involved with the issuance of death warrants. The documents demonstrate an opaque process that does not identify why or how inmates are selected for execution. On June 6, 2012, three top Justice Ministry officials announced that they will study the possibility of adopting lethal injection execution methods used in the United States, many of which are being challenged in that country as cruel and unusual.
Who can be sentenced to death in Japan and what is the judicial process like? 18 offenses are punishable by hanging. Japan has failed to carry out reforms recommended as part of the Universal periodic review to provide essential safeguards to protect innocent and incompetent persons from execution. Moreover, harsh death row conditions constitute cruel and unusual treatment. In the Daiyo Kangoku (substitute prison system), detained suspects face a high risk of torture and other degrading treatment. Police in these facilities may interrogate suspects for up to 23 days without charge. Prosecutors and the authorities have broad discretion to determine whether and when defense counsel has access to the accused during interrogations, and which segments of an can be used in court. An individual may be executed without any appeal or review of the original conviction.
How are people treated on death row in Japan? Japanese law requires death row inmates to be held in single cells and prohibits them from mutual contact with other inmates. Prolonged solitary confinement is not the exception, but the rule. “Peace of mind” conditions are a pretext for imposing harsh treatment, including strict restrictions on communication with outside people and denial of independent psychiatric evaluation and treatment. The authorities do not notify inmates of their execution until the day of execution, and family members and legal counsel until after the execution.
What should Japan do about its death penalty system? The country should reform its criminal justice system to ensure compliance with minimum international standards and safeguards by: – establishing transparency in all phases of capital proceedings; – monitoring of all interrogation procedures during all phases of interrogation; – introducing a mandatory system of appeals in cases involving capital offenses; – barring prosecutors from requesting the death penalty on appeal; and – suspending execution orders during all post-conviction proceedings, including petitions for retrial, and clemency requests. The practice of isolating death row prisoners indefinitely should end and conditions of detention should comply with international standards, including guaranteeing their right to counsel and communication with the outside world. The authorities should provide prior notification of execution date to prisoners, counsel, and their family members. Japan should also establish an independent system for systematic and specialized psychological and psychiatric evaluation of every inmate’s mental condition at every stage of a criminal proceeding to prevent the execution of the mentally insane and individuals with diminished mental capacity. The Advocates for Human Rights and the World Coalition call on the Japanese government to establish a moratorium on executions and create an official and transparent expert study group to review the application of the death penalty in Japan and disseminate information about the death penalty and criminal justice system to the public.