Monday, 28 August 2006

Long wait, sudden death in Japan

[Please note: long post]
Amnesty International (AI) has condemned the secrecy, lengthy delays and failures of criminal justice that beset Japan's death penalty system.

The human rights organisation released its July report Will this day be my last? to add pressure on the Japanese government to abolish the death penalty and reform aspects of its criminal justice and penal systems.

AI said it released the report as "activists and experts on the death penalty from across Asia-Pacific" met in Hong Kong to discuss the region's high rate of executions.

In this post:
· Executed at any time
· Japan's secret shame
· Innocent on death row?
· Preventing public debate
· Time for an end

Executed at any time
AI said death row prisoners live in a harsh and secretive prison system, where they may spend decades knowing they could be executed at any time.

It said a prisoner is usually notified in the morning on the day of their execution, and in some cases the prisoner is not notified at all.

According to the report: "This practice means that prisoners live with the constant fear of execution, not knowing from day to day whether they will be alive the next day. Once the appeal process is finalized, a prisoner can wait for years or decades before execution."

Earlier this year, a survey of death row prisoners by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations found that about a quarter of Japan's death row prisoners received no visitors and most spent their days locked alone in a small cell. Many who received visitors only had contact with their relatives or their lawyers.

Because of the long delays in the legal process and appeals in Japan, prisoners can wait decades to be executed.

The report says that Okunishi Masaru is "one of a number of very elderly prisoners on Japan's death row", having been sentenced to death in 1961 for poisoning five women. He is now 80 years old.

According to the report: "In April 2005, the Nagoya High Court granted a retrial citing new evidence that could prove his innocence. His supporters are urging that his retrial begin soon: in March 2006 he is said to have told visitors, "Please clear my false charge while I am alive." "

Japan's secret shame
The AI report describes a death penalty system where only the authorities know when an execution will take place. When a person is executed, "it usually occurs while Parliament is in recess and unable to debate the issue".

"According to a former Minister of Justice, Usui Hideo, this policy is designed to deprive opposition politicians of any opportunity 'to cause a big public row over the death penalty'," the report says. The only information about the execution of death sentences in Japan comes from statistics issued periodically by the Ministry of Justice. The government does not release the names of executed prisoners.

"The families of those on death row live under the constant pressure of knowing their loved ones face execution and that in many cases their death may come without warning," the report says.

The AI report cites the experience of Kimura Shuji's mother, who arrived to visit her son on death row on the morning of 21 December 1995. She was told visiting hours were busy and to come back at noon. She returned and was asked whether she wanted to take her son's body for burial.

"Many families abandon their condemned relatives in such circumstances either because of the shame of having a family member on death row or an inability to cope with the stress of continuing the relationship."

Innocent on death row?
AI claims that there is a "particularly high" risk of executing an innocent person in Japan because of the system of pre-trial detention in police custody, or daiyi kangoku.

"Suspects can be held in police cells for up to 23 days and are vulnerable to long periods of interrogation," the report says.

"Akahori Masao was sentenced to death in 1958 aged 25 on charges of rape and murder. He always claimed he was innocent and had confessed under duress, saying, "the interrogators hit me on the head, almost strangled me with their hands and kicked me... I decided to agree with all their questions because I could not put up with the torture."

"It was not until 1987, after four court applications, that his retrial began. He was acquitted aged 59, having spent over 34 years in detention."

Preventing public debate
AI said the secrecy surrounding Japan's death penalty system had suppressed and distorted public debate about its use.

Even Japanese parliamentarians have found it difficult to monitor detention conditions for condemned prisoners. The report says that in 2003 nine executive members of the parliamentary Committee on Judicial Affairs had to fight for the right to see the new execution chamber at the Tokyo Detention Centre.

"It was reportedly the first time since 1973 that the Ministry of Justice allowed people outside the penal and justice systems to see a death chamber."

Despite their requests, the parliamentarians were prevented from meeting with death row prisoners.

"Successive governments in Japan have failed to initiate a parliamentary debate about the death penalty. Ministers of Justice have also indicated that the role of the government in relation to the death penalty was to administer its use, but not to intervene in its discussion."

The report notes that "the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) also states that one of the main reasons that capital punishment has not been abolished in Japan is due to the extraordinary secrecy that surrounds the death penalty system and the subsequent lack of information for potential public debate".

The organisation urged the Japanese government to take note of criticisms about its administration of the death penalty raised by activists in Japan, international human rights groups and organisations such as the UN and Council of Europe.

"The government has an obligation to initiate an informed public and parliamentary debate on the use of the death penalty, which in turn means ending the secrecy surrounding executions in Japan," the report says.

Time for an end
The report makes a series of six recommendations to the Japanese government, including abolishing the death penalty, improving prison conditions and taking steps to end torture, ill-treatment and coerced confessions.

"Japan is one of the few industrialised countries which still carry out state killings," said Suki Nagra, AI's East Asia Campaigner.

"By abolishing the death penalty Japan would provide leadership to the Asia-Pacific region, which is currently bucking the global trend towards abolition." As a first step towards abolition, we urge the Japanese government to end the secrecy currently surrounding its use of the death penalty.

"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," Suki Nagra said.

Tags: death penalty Japan Amnesty International

Monday, 21 August 2006

Execution delay for Bali bombers

The execution of three men for their roles in the first Bali bombing has been delayed after defence lawyers indicated they would lodge a final application for judicial review.

Imam Samudra, Amrozi and his older brother Ali Ghufron were due to face a firing squad at dawn tomorrow (22 August) for organising the October 2002 attacks.

The Attorney General's spokesman I Wayan Pasek Suartha told the AAP newsagency: "Now the convicts and the lawyers have proposed to appeal ... and although it has not been registered to the district court, the process of judicial review is ongoing. That is the factor that delays execution," the attorney general's spokesman.

The appeals are expected to argue that the anti-terror laws under which they were convicted were applied retrospectively.

The three have been edging closer to execution since April, when the Attorney-General's Office asked the men's families if they intended to apply for clemency.

Victim's father opposes executions
Australian former magistrate Brian Deegan, whose 21 year-old son Josh was killed in the attack, said he still opposed the death penalty, even though the delay also affected grieving for his son.

"From a legal point of view, I am happy about the decision because everyone has the same rights as everyone else regardless of the crime so their right to appeal should be respected," he told AP.

"From a philosophical point of view, I'm totally against capital punishment.

"The only downside is that this for me delays the grieving process. I just wish it could be all put to rest so that I could put it behind me," he said.

'Poso 3' may still die
Speculation is mounting that the Indonesian government may execute three Catholics as early as tonight, for their alleged roles inciting violence between Christian and Muslim communities in central Sulawesi.

Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marinus Riwu were less than an hour away from being shot by firing squad on 12 August, when they were granted a repreive until after Independence Day celebrations on the 17th.

Singapore forum against death penalty

The Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC) is organising a forum and debate on the death penalty on 27 August. The event will also highlight the largely unnoticed cases of two Africans who are currently on death row.

Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, 19, and Okele Nelson Malachy, 33, lost appeals against their death sentences on 16 March. They were arrested at Changi Airport on 27 November 2004 and later convicted of trafficking heroin into Singapore.

Singapore's Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap. 185) carries a mandatory death sentence for anyone found guilty of trafficking in more than 15 grams of heroin.

Unlike the highly publicised case of Australian citizen Van Tuong Nguyen, who was executed in Singapore on 2 December 2005, Tochi and Malachi have received very little media attention.

Tochi is from Nigeria and according to some reports Malachy is from South Africa, although he does not have current proof of his citizenship.

The two men have filed appeals for clemency with the Singapore President -- their final avenue of appeal -- although clemency is almost never granted.

For readers who wish to take action to try to save Tochi and Malachy, see Amnesty International's letter-writing action.

For readers in Singapore who are interested in attending, here is further information taken from SADPC's publicity material for the event.


Forum/Debate on The Death Penalty
27th August, Asia Hotel
37 Scotts Rd, 2.30-5.30 pm
(Next to Newton MRT Station)
"Please don't allow them to kill me," pleads 19-year-old Nigerian prison inmate Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi. "I don't understand why they have to kill somebody for something like this."


Debate for and against the Death Penalty, for Drugs, for Murder, in Singapore and Everywhere,

  • Lee Weng Choy, Art Critic and Cultural Activist.
  • Alex Au, Gay Rights Activist, Social Commentator and Editor of Yawning Bread.
  • Moderator: Lucy Davis, Editor, Forum On Contemporary Art & Society.
Input from:

  • Tochi’s Lawyer and Anti Death Penalty campaigner, M. Ravi
  • Madam Letchumi Murugesu, Mother of Shanmugam Murugesu, executed last year
And messages from:

  • Amnesty International
  • World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
  • Nigerian Civil Liberties Organisation
  • Australian Council Against The Death Penalty
  • UN Desk on Extra Judicial Killing
  • Video plea from Tochi's brother in Nigeria
The Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC) comprises a concerned group of Singaporeans and residents from diverse backgrounds who have come together over the issue of the Death Penalty. Through a series of debates and events we hope to foster a public debate on the practice of capital punishment in Singapore and throughout the world.


Saturday, 12 August 2006

Indonesia: Poso executions delayed

Three Indonesian Catholics who were scheduled to be executed at 12.15 this morning [12 August] at a secret location in Central Sulawesi were granted a last-minute reprieve.

Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marinus Riwu were less than an hour away from being shot by firing squad, when Indonesian officials announced they would now be executed after Independence Day celebrations on 17 August.

Reports suggested the three men had been given the last rites and doctors were waiting to travel to the execution site to pronounce them dead.

The Jakarta Post reported that National Police chief Gen. Sutanto made the announcement following a limited Cabinet meeting late on Friday with chief security minister Widodo A.S., Justice and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin and Attorney General Abdul Rahman Saleh.

According to The Jakarta Post, "Sutanto said the decision was based on consultation with the Central Sulawesi Police, local administration and prosecutor's office."

Gen. Sutanto stressed the executions had not been cancelled, simply delayed.

"It's only a matter of the timing. The decision must be carried out, and those who are guilty must follow their sentence," he said.

One report said they would be executed on 20 August at the earliest.

Papal appeal denied
The executions were delayed following an appeal for clemency from the Pope, although the Indonesian Government denied the postponement was a response to foreign pressure.

In a letter to President Yudhoyono on Friday, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano said on behalf of the Pope that clemency should be granted "on humanitarian grounds".
[See below for the full text of the Vatican's appeal.]

The Jakarta Post reported that Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda on Saturday denied the appeals for clemency had caused the delay.

"We postponed the executions but we did not cancel them because we are a sovereign country. It was only a postponement," Hassan was quoted as saying.

"There are a lot of letters asking for postponement including apparently from the Vatican."

Political trade off?
The three men were convicted of inciting sectarian violence between Christian Muslim communities in Poso in Central Sulawesi, in which hundreds of Muslims were killed.

They have denied the charges, and their lawyers claimed to have evidence demonstrating that 16 other men had masterminded the violence. They said the three men would in be fact key witnesses in the event that the true perpetrators were brought to justice.

Amnesty International has expressed its concern at "reports indicating that the trial of the three men in Palu District Court did not meet international standards of fairness".

Some analysts have suggested the Indonesian Government was now moving to execute the three Catholics in a political trade off between the Muslim and Christian communities. The government is also planning to execute three Muslim militants in the coming weeks for the October 2002 Bali nightclub bombings.

Appeal from the Pope

Text of the Vatican appeal for clemency, from the website of the Vatican news service:

Telegram from the Holy Father

His Excellency
Susilo Yudhoyono
President of the Republic of Indonesia

I am writing to you in regard to the imminent executions of Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marinus Riwu. In the name of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI I turn to you again, Your Excellency, to seek your intervention on humanitarian grounds, and in light of the particularity of the case, in order that an act of clemency might be granted to these three Catholic citizens of your nation. In adding my voice to others I would also note the position of the Catholic Church which on numerous occasions has spoken out against the death penalty. Trusting that this appeal made on behalf of His Holiness will meet with a positive outcome, I extend to you my sentiments of esteem.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano
Secretary of State

[Original text: English]

Related stories:
Indonesia: Six may soon be shot -- 10August 2006
Indonesia: Poso 3 facing imminent execution -- 16 May 2006

Thursday, 10 August 2006

Indonesia: Six may soon be shot

Reports from Indonesia indicate that the government is preparing to execute three Christians this weekend in Central Sulawesi. And three more may follow, if the executions of the three leading Bali bombers are carried out as planned in late August.

Fabianus Tibo, 60, Dominggus da Silva, 42, and Marinus Riwu, 48, were sentenced to death in April 2001, convicted of premeditated murder and inciting riots in the town of Poso, Central Sulawesi in May 2000. They were accused of inciting sectarian violence in which hundreds of Muslims were killed.

A Reuters report said the three would "face a firing squad just after midnight on Friday at a secret location in the Central Sulawesi provincial capital of Palu", citing remarks by a spokesman for Indonesia's Attorney General.

Reuters said I Wayan Pasek Suartha told reporters: "There will be no delay unless there's a natural catastrophe. The families of the convicts have been notified".

The Jakarta Post reported that "more than 2,000" Indonesian Christians held a protest rally against the planned executions on Thursday in the Sulawesi town of Tentena. Protests were also held in two towns on Floresisland, where the three men were born.

Bali bombers to die

Indonesian government officials have also said the three men convicted of organising the October 2002 bombing Bali - which killed 202 people - would be shot on 22 August.

Imam Samudra, Amrozi and Ali Ghufron (also known as Mukhlas) have said they would not ask for clemency but would answer only to God.

Despite these earlier statements one of their defence lawyers, Muhammad Mahendradata, said an appeal would be filed before 22 August.

AP newsagency reported the appeal would argue the three had been convicted on the basis of retroactive legislation.

"The criminal code stipulates that if there is any change in the law then the law applied should be beneficial to the defendant," the BBC quoted him as saying.

Any further appeal would be likely to postpone the executions for several months.

Thursday, 3 August 2006

Australia 'should act against death penalty'

Australia should take stronger action against the death penalty at home and in the region, according to the opposition Labor Party.

Shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon MP said in a statement that Australia should "advocate more strongly" for its neighbours and allies to abolish the death penalty.

Australia has close diplomatic and economic relationships with some of Asia's leading executioners and it is a close ally of the USA, the only Western democracy that retains the death penalty.

She said any method of execution was "inhumane, no matter what the crime".

"Australia needs to use its position internationally and in the region to abolish the death penalty universally," Ms Roxon said.

"In the last year we have been sadly reminded of this by the hanging of van Nguyen in Singapore, the first Australian to be executed since Malaysia hanged Michael McAuliffe in 1993," she said.

Ms Roxon issued the statement on 11 July, the fifteenth anniversary of the entry into force of the United Nations' human rights protocol against the death penalty.

She said Australia should also encourage its neighbours to ratify the Second Optional Protocol.

Although Australia had ratified the protocol, she said it had not yet been adopted into domestic law.

"I would like to see bipartisan support for adoption of the Protocol, so that its provisions would have binding force over the Commonwealth, States and Territories into the future," she said.

'Use Philippines to help end death penalty'

The lawyer who defended the last Australian hanged in Asia said the Philippines should be held up as an example for other countries in the region to follow.

Lex Lasry QC said in late June that Australia should publicly congratulate the Philippines for abolishing the death penalty, and encourage other countries in Asia to do the same.

"Such a step demonstrates the potential in South-East Asia for countries in that region who have maintained capital punishment to be persuaded to change their policy," he said.

"Australia, a country internationally committed to the abolition of capital punishment, should immediately publicly congratulate the Philippines on its decision and use it as an example to persuade other countries in our region to do likewise."

Mr Lasry represented Van Tuong Nguyen, who was hanged for heroin trafficking in Singapore on 2 December 2005.