Thursday, 21 December 2006

Executions may resume in Japan

Lawyers and human rights activists in Japan fear the government may soon resume executions, after a break of about 15 months.

The recent appointment of a new Justice Minister, and the end of sittings of the Japanese Diet (parliament), have raised concerns that the country may again activate its secretive death penalty system.

Executions in Japan are usually carried out when the Diet is not in session, which campaigners say is deliberately timed to avoid scrutiny and debate about the death penalty.

The last execution in Japan was reported to have been on 16 September 2005.

Makoto Teranaka, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur that the end of the current parliamentary session "raises the possibility that executions will be carried out".

Last week Japan's bar association appealed to Justice Minister Jinen Nagase not to approve any executions.

The organisation warned him of the potential for innocent people to be executed and cited the worldwide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty.

Minister 'ready to sign'
Following Jinen Nagase's appointment as Justice Minister on 26 September, The Japan Times reported he would sign execution orders when a prisoner's death sentence was finalised.

"I realise there have been voices against the death penalty itself," he said.

"But considering the feelings of the victims and maintaining order in the society, I do not dispute the death penalty."

The report said the minister told his inaugural media conference that a finalised verdict under law must be carried out.

"It's about ending a person's life, so it must be given careful consideration," Nagase said.

"But rulings by the courts must not be ignored."

'Personal feelings'
Japan's previous Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura, a Buddhist, had said he would not sign execution orders due to his religious beliefs, a move that divided legal opinion in the country.

After he was appointed in October 2005, he told a media conference: "I'll not sign (execution orders). It's a matter of my thoughts, religious beliefs and philosophy."

He later ‘clarified’ his remarks and said: "I only described my personal feelings. I didn't talk about performing my official duties."

He said if he was presented with an execution order to sign, he would "make judgments in an appropriate manner".

No prisoners were executed during his time in office.

Legal opinion divided
Legal commentators were divided on Sugiura's remarks.

Ryukoku University Professor Shinichi Ishizuka told Mainichi Newspapers that the minister's caution was appropriate in relation to death penalty cases.

"The Code of Criminal Procedure empowers a justice minister to issue execution orders because the law calls for cautious judgment," he said.

"The law may expect a justice minister to exercise leadership in such decisions depending on the trends of the times.

"It's an international trend to decrease the death penalty. I appreciate Sugiura's cautious attitude toward the death penalty," Ishizuka said.

Other academics argued the minister had failed to perform his official duties.

Chuo University Professor Emeritus Toyo Atsumi said: "It's a matter of course that he must abide by the Code of Criminal Procedure that stipulates that a just minister must issue execution orders.

"His refusal to do so means he has failed to fulfill his official duty as justice minister. The prime minister should dismiss such a minister," he said.

"Mr. Sugiura is a lawyer, so if he had no intention of issuing execution orders, he shouldn't have accepted the post of justice minister in the first place," Atsumi said.

Related stories:
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006
Japan: Lonely wait for the noose -- 5 Apr 2006
Japan's death row hell -- 3 Mar 2006

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Death penalty victims speak out

Execution leaves a prisoner dead, but it leaves their families serving a deeply painful life sentence. Yet we rarely hear their stories, and we are almost never confronted with the consequences for them of having a loved one killed by the state.

A new report in the USA has broken this silence surrounding the families of executed people.

The report by Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights (MVFHR), released on Human Rights Day -- 10 December, documents the experiences of the families and how they suffer similar effects to others who have experienced violent loss.

MVFHR said it produced the report Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind "to highlight the similarities between the experiences of survivors of homicide victims and survivors of people who are executed".

MVFHR is an organisation of the families of people killed through murder and terrorist acts, and the families of people killed by the state. It works against the death penalty, based on a human rights perspective.

"Family members of the executed are the death penalty's invisible victims," said Renny Cushing, executive director of MVFHR.

"With each execution, we create a new grieving family who experience many familiar symptoms of trauma, some of them long-lasting. As a society, what are we doing to address the suffering of these families?"

Hearing their voices
The report is based on the deeply moving testimony of many families from "this new group of victims".

"I don't think people understand what executions do to the families of the person being executed," said Billie Jean Mayberry, whose brother Robert Coe was executed in Tennessee in 2000.

"To us, our brother was murdered right in front of our eyes. It changed all of our lives."

Robert Meeropol, whose parents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed when he was six years old, emphasised the devastating effect of execution on children.

"What impact does this event have on children’s impressionable lives, and what cost does society pay for that impact?"

The report makes recommendations for mental health professionals, educators, and child welfare advocates.

MVFHR has also sent a copy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights with a request that she undertake a study of the impact of executions on surviving families.

Read their stories
Our colleagues at the Abolish the Death Penalty blog are running a two-week, ten-part series with the families' stories from the MVFHR report.

The first post is available here.

The full report is available here. (Please note the file is 2.46Mb.)

Friday, 15 December 2006

No execution for Canberra murder: Report

China is ready to guarantee it will not execute the suspect in a Canberra murder case, according to a recent report in The Canberra Times.

The newspaper reported on 29 November that Chinese authorities have agreed not to impose the death penalty on Zhang Long if he is convicted of murdering his girlfriend Zhang Hong Jie (also known as Zhang Hongjie or Steffi Zhang).

Her badly decomposed body was found in January 2005 in their apartment in Belconnen, Canberra, several months after she was believed to have been strangled.

According to The Canberra Times, a spokesman for Australia's Justice Minister Chris Ellison said it was likely Zhang would be spared if he was found guilty.

"China has indicated it will give a written undertaking not to apply the death penalty," he said.

Zhang Long has reportedly been held in Chinese custody since 3 March, 2005.

The government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) refused to hand over evidence in the case until China gave an undertaking the death penalty would not be imposed.

The ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the government would hand over the evidence once it had received a written undertaking.

"If that commitment is formally given then we would be willing to assist Chinese authorities with prosecution," he said.

"This person is accused of a very serious crime and obviously we need to ensure justice is carried out."

Mr Corbell said the case showed "the importance of insisting the death penalty is unacceptable".

"It reinforces the importance of refusing to be complicit in actions that may lead to the death penalty and shows you can be successful in averting it," he said.

Sensitive negotiations
In June 2005, the Australian Government confirmed it was negotiating with Chinese authorities over the case.

The government confirmed that sensitive negotiations were continuing when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Australia in April 2006.

Debate in China
In the past year, Chinese legal experts have suggested its death penalty system may need reforming, to ensure suspects in criminal cases can be extradited from countries which oppose the death penalty.

Under Australian law, an international request for assistance in criminal cases can be refused where that assistance may result in the death penalty.

Related story:
Australia China talks over murder case -- 3 April, 2006

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Taiwan: Death penalty benefit an 'illusion'

Taiwan approved plans to execute a man only three weeks after its Justice Minister wrote to Amnesty International saying the government believed "that execution is not the answer" to crime.

Amnesty International (AI) said Chong Deshu (also reported as Chung Te-shu or 鍾德樹) was at risk of imminent execution after the Ministry of Justice released a notice of final judgment on 1 December.

Executions are usually carried out three days after the notice is issued, but AI said the Proesecutor-General appears to have delayed the execution to allow Chong Deshu's lawyer extra time to review the case.

His lawyer was reportedly examining whether there were any legal options that could prevent the execution, however AI has warned that he "could be executed at any moment without notice".

Chong Deshu was convicted of arson after an April 2001 fire killed three people and injured eighteen others.

On Saturday, the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) applied to the Supreme Prosecutors' Office to review legal documents relating to Chung's case.

According to a report in The Taipei Times, the group hoped to stop the execution.

"The review of the case's legal documents may lead to an extraordinary application [to stop the execution] if the documents reveal anything suspicious," said Y.C. Kao (高湧誠) from the TAEDP.

Take action
Please write to the President of Taiwan, urging him to stop the execution of Chong Deshu, commute his sentence and take steps towards the full abolition of the death penalty. Send letters to:

President CHEN Shui-bian
Office of the President
122 Chungching S. Road, Sec.1
Taipei 10048
Fax: +886 2 23115877
Salutation: Your Excellency

'Serious thought'
Minister of Justice Shih Mao-Lin wrote to AI on 8 November saying he would "give serious thought to your suggestion not to carry out any executions over the coming months".

"We must say we agree with you completely that the reliance on the death penalty as a method of crime control is illusory. We also believe that execution is not the answer," Shih Mao-Lin wrote.

AI had written to the Minister of Justice on the World Day Against the Death Penalty (10 October) urging the government "to take immediate and concrete steps towards abolition of the death penalty".

The human rights organisation said it was "encouraged by numerous statements made by Taiwanese officials over recent years indicating support for abolition" and welcomed that no executions had been ordered or carried out to date this year.

"Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments," AI said.

Related story:
Taiwan working towards abolition? -- 20 February 2006

Friday, 8 December 2006

Bali bombers lodge appeals

Three men convicted over the October 2002 Bali bombings have lodged appeals against their death sentences.

The Australian reports the office of the Attorney-General confirmed the men's legal team had applied for judicial review of their sentences.

Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, Imam Samudra and Mukhlas (also known as Ali Ghufron) were convicted in 2003 for the bombings in Kuta, Bali, which killed 202 people.

Wirawan Adnan, a member of their legal team, said the appeals would include the argument they should not have been convicted under anti-terrorism legislation which was passed after the bombings.

"They should not have been allowed to use the retroactive legislation, and the Supreme Court has made a ruling on this. There are some other points that we will present, but this is the strong point," Mr Adnan told The Australian.

The newspaper report said three separate panels of judges would hear the appeals in Denpasar District Court, after which the findings would be submitted to the Supreme Court in Jakarta. It said a date for the hearings had not yet been set.

The appeals came after a drawn-out game of tactics between their lawyers and Indonesia's Attorney-General Abdul Rahman Saleh.

On Wednesday, the Attorney-General told Reuters he would proceed with the execution process if the men hadn't filed their appeals by the end of the month.

"It is proper enough for the attorney-general's office to wait until the end of this month on whether they would file for a judicial review. If they don't file, the process will go forward," he said.

Related stories:
Execution delay for Bali bombers -- 21 August 2006
Bali bombers closer to execution -- 11 April 2006

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Malaysia: Death penalty essay competition

The Malaysian Bar is holding an essay competition on the subject of the death penalty.

Malaysia Star reports the Council's Human Rights Committee has called for essays up to 3,500 words on the topic "Death Penalty: Yes or No?"

Essays must be written in English or Malay.

The competition is open to Malaysians who are "enrolled in the CLP Program, doing their chambering or [are] undergraduates studying in a local public or private university or college".

All essay competition entries should be sent to the Bar Council Secretariat by 31 January, 2007.

For details, call Mohd Rezib 03-2031 3003 ext. 185 or e-mail

In March 2006, the Malaysia Bar's annual general meeting passed a resolution calling for an end to the death penalty and for all death sentences to be commuted.

Related stories:
Renewed debate on death penalty in Malaysia -- 23 March, 2006
Malaysian lawyers against the death penalty -- 21 March, 2006

China admits organs from prisoners

A senior Chinese health official has admitted that most transplant organs in China - the world's second-largest transplant system, are taken from executed prisoners.

Vice-Minister of Health Huang Jiefu told a conference on organ transplantation in Guangzhou on 14 November: "There are about 1.5 million people in China who need transplants each year, but only around 10,000 operations can be carried out."

"Almost all organ transplants can be performed in China. However, the current big shortfall of organ donations can't meet the demand," he said.

"Apart from a small portion of traffic victims, most of the organs from cadavers are from executed prisoners," Huang said.

But Vice-Minister Huang denied the organs were taken without the consent of the prisoner or their family.

"The relevant government authorities strongly require the informed consent from the prisoners or their families for the donation of organs," he said.

Ministry of Health spokesman Mao Qun'an said the regulations required the written consent of a prisoner or their relatives in order to donate their organs.

However he admitted that the regulations had not been properly enforced because of poor government supervision.

Rich people, including foreign patients, could jump waiting lists by buying transplant organs.

Official turnaround
The latest admission is a sharp reversal of the Chinese Government's policy of denying that many organs came from executed prisoners.

As recently as 13 September, The Shanghai Daily reported that the "Ministry of Health said most organs in China had been voluntarily donated by citizens. A small number came from death-row inmates who had volunteered."

Large transplant system
Xinhua's report on the conference said according to the Ministry of Health, 2,500 cornea transplants are carried out every year in China, with a further 2 million patients awaiting corneas for transplant.

It said Ministry of Health statistics recorded 34,726 organ transplants in China between 2000 and 2004.

With 10,000 transplants every year, China ranks second in the world for transplants after the United States.

Lucrative trade in death
Amnesty International reported in May that "extracting organs from executed prisoners has been a widespread and highly profitable practice in China since the de facto privatization of health care several years ago".

The human rights organisation said it was estimated that around 99% of transplanted organs in China may come from executed prisoners.

Amnesty International's death penalty update said: "International medical standards state that transplants may only take place voluntarily and with the free and informed consent of the donor; it is unlikely that those faced with the trauma of imminent execution are in a position to provide such consent.

"The secrecy surrounding the application of the death penalty in China also makes it difficult to verify whether such consent was given."

Related stories:
Stop transplant tourism: surgeon -- 28 November, 2006
China restricts organs from executions -- 29 March, 2006

China, death penalty, executed prisoners, human rights, law reform, organ transplant