Sunday, 26 August 2007

Japan executed mentally ill man

One of three Japanese men hanged last week had been diagnosed as suffering from mental illness, according to an update released by Amnesty International (AI).

The human rights organisation said that, at the time of his trial, doctors from both the prosecution and defence found Hifumi Takezawa was mentally ill.

"At his appeal, his lawyer argued that Takezawa had apparently suffered a significant personality change as a result of a stroke, which made him paranoid and aggressive, but the judge rejected the appeal," AI said.

"It is not known whether Takezawa had received any medical treatment for his mental illness during his nine years on death row."

Hifumi Takezawa, 69, Yoshio Iwamoto, 63, and Kozo Segawa, 60, were hanged on 23 August in Tokyo and Nagoya.

AI said the men were hanged when the Japanese Diet was in recess, similar to previous executions.

"Japan has a record of executing prisoners with mental disabilities," AI said.

"The harsh condition of death row – isolation cell, lack of human interaction, and mostly the stress from being under perpetual threat of execution, means that many prisoners develop mental illness while they are on death row."

It said the Government's refusal to name the men hanged demonstrated "the extreme secrecy surrounding the implementation of the death penalty in Japan".

"Families and lawyers are usually not informed until after the executions and prisoners are often hanged at very short notice."

104 people remain on death row in Japan.

Background - Takezawa
According to a report by The Asahi Shimbun on 23 August, Takezawa was convicted of strangling a company executive in 1990 in the city of Nikko (then called Imaichi), Tochigi Prefecture.

He reportedly put the body in a car and set it alight. He also killed an elderly couple and set fire to their home their home in 1993 in the same city.

Related stories:
Japan: Lawyers condemn three more executions -- 24 August, 2007
Urgent move to stop executions in Japan -- 8 August, 2007
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006
Japan: Lonely wait for the noose -- 5 April 2006
Japan's death row hell -- 3 March 2006

Friday, 24 August 2007

Japan: Lawyers condemn three more executions

Japan's peak legal organisation has condemned the execution of three men yesterday, and called for reform of the country's justice system to prevent innocent people being sentenced to death.

The Asahi Shimbun reported that three men were hanged on Thursday morning in detention centers in Tokyo and Nagoya.

It said the three were Hifumi Takezawa, 69, and Yoshio Iwamoto, 63, who were executed at the Tokyo Detention House, and Kozo Segawa, 60, who was hanged at the Nagoya Detention House. Amnesty Internatinal said the three were convicted of murder between 1990 and 1999.

Agence France-Presse quoted a justice ministry spokeswoman as saying: "The justice ministry executed 3 criminals who had been sentenced to death." But in line with its usual practice the government refused to release any further details, including their names.

Record number
Japan's justice minister Jinen Nagase has now approved a record ten executions since he took office on 26 September 2006. Three other prisoners were executed in April 2007 and four in December 2006.

The Asahi Shimbun said this was the highest number of executions approved by any one justice minister since a moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in 1993.

His immediate predecessor refused to approve any death warrants during his eleven months in office.

Legal criticism
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations condemned the three latest hangings and called for deficiencies in the country's justice system to be addressed before any more executions were carried out.

It said these same deficiencies had led to innocent people being condemned to death in the past, including prisoners who were released from death row in the 1980s after having being found innocent.

The problems included a system of up to 23 days detention of suspects in police custody, which human rights organisations say has allowed ill-treatment and abuse by police, and encouraged forced confessions.

In a statement posted on its website (Japanese text available here) the organisation called for a national debate on the death penalty.

"The danger that mistaken death sentences will be handed down still exists,'' the statement said, according to a report by Bloomberg News.

"The operational and systemic defects that have led to erroneous death sentences haven't been fundamentally remedied.''

Public opinion 'distorted'
The Japanese government has justified the use of the death penalty by saying it is responding to public support for executions.

Bloomberg said the latest telephone survey by the Cabinet Office found 81 per cent of 2,048 registered voters supported the death penalty in "unavoidable circumstances",' while 6 per cent supported its abolition.

Bloomberg said the United Nations had described public support as misleading where death penalty cases were surrounded by secrecy.

"There is an obvious inconsistency when a state invokes public opinion on the one hand, while on the other hand deliberately withholding relevant information on the use of the death penalty from the public,'' the UN Commission on Human Rights said in a report in March 2006.

Related stories:
Urgent move to stop executions in Japan -- 08 August, 2007
Japan hangs three 'to keep numbers down' -- 29 April, 2007
Japan: Christmas hangings draw protest -- 03 January, 2007
Executions may resume in Japan -- 21 December, 2006
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006
Japan: Lonely wait for the noose -- 5 April 2006
Japan's death row hell -- 3 March 2006

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Bali court: Australians deserve death

Bali's Denpasar District Court has recommended an appeal by three members of the Bali 9 should be rejected, saying international drug trafficking offences "deserved the death penalty".

The lower court's recommendation is not binding on the Supreme Court, which will decide the appeal. But for the appeal to succeed, the Supreme Court would have to overturn its earlier decision upgrading their sentences to death.

Fairfax journalist Mark Forbes reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald that the three judges who heard the appeal have prepared a report rejecting legal arguments used by convicted heroin traffickers Matthew Norman, Si Yi Chen and Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen.

The newspaper said it had seen a copy of the report, which stated: "In our opinion the judicial review request is DISMISSED."

The Denpasar judges reportedly found the Supreme Court had the right to impose the death penalty even though prosecutors had requested a maximum of life imprisonment.

They said the original penalties were not proportional to the crime and "therefore the panel of judges sees no errors have been made".

"Drug-related crimes are considered as an extraordinary anti-social act," the judges found.

They also said international drug trafficking was included in "the most serious crime and deserved the death penalty".

Erwin Siregar, one of the lawyers for the three men, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that the the Supreme Court did not have to take the opinion into account.

The ABC reported he said it was not good news for his clients, but the Supreme Court was totally independent.

"The judges' court, when they make a decision, nobody can influence them," he said.

"They are free to make a decision."

In May 2007, Si Yi Chen, 22, Matthew Norman, 20 and Thanh Duc Tan Nguyen, 24, appeared in Bali's Denpasar District Court for hearings into their judicial review.
Written submissions lodged by their lawyers argued the Supreme Court did not consider the full facts of the cases when it changed their sentences from 20 years to death.

Related stories:
Bali 9 challenge may win and fail -- 03 June, 2007
Drug penalty violates international law -- 06 May, 2007
Australians appeal Bali death sentences -- 02 May, 2007
Firing squad for six of Bali nine -- 10 September, 2006
Bali 9 death sentence confirmed -- 26 April, 2006

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Urgent move to stop executions in Japan

Amnesty International has issued an urgent appeal to try to stop three men from the gallows in Japan tomorrow.

The organisation believes Takezawa Hifumi (born 1937), Segawa Kouzou (born 1947) and Iwamoto Yoshio (born 1945) may be hanged as soon as 9 August.

They are currently held on death row in Tokyo and Nagoya, convicted of murder between 1990 and 1999.

The appeal says Takezawa Hifumi has been diagnosed as suffering from mental illness.

Deliberate timing
Amnesty International believes the executions may be deliberately timed for the 62nd anniversary of the detonation of an atom bomb over Nagasaki during World War II.

Executions in Japan are often scheduled during parliamentary recesses or on holidays, to avoid public discussion of the death penalty.

Japan resumed executions on 25 December 2006 after a fifteen month break, when incoming Justice Minister Jinen Nagase approved the hanging of four men. Three more were executed on 27 April 2007.

His predecessor, Seiken Sugiura, had refused to sign execution orders during his term in office due to his devout Buddhist beliefs.

Amnesty International said the death penalty in Japan was "arbitrary and cruel".

"There are 107 prisoners facing the death penalty in Japan including a few who have spent over three decades on death row expecting to die at very short notice," it said.

Take action
Amnesty International has requested people send appeal letters to Japanese authorities calling for an immediate moratorium on executions and an end to the secrecy around the country's use of the death penalty.

Please send appeals to:

Prime Minister
ABE Shinzo
Prime Minister’s Office
2-3-1 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 100-0014, Japan

Fax: +81 3 3581 3883

Related stories:
Japan hangs three 'to keep numbers down' -- 29 April, 2007
Japan: Christmas hangings draw protest -- 03 January, 2007
Executions may resume in Japan -- 21 December, 2006
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006
Japan: Lonely wait for the noose -- 5 April 2006
Japan's death row hell -- 3 March 2006

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Party claims economic penalty 'prudent'

China's ruling Communist Party has claimed it is "prudent" in using the death penalty for economic crimes, as it struggles to contain the threat of widespread corruption.

Gan Yisheng, spokesman for the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) of the party's Central Committee told a press conference the death penalty was applied to a "very small" number of people for serious economic crimes.

"We are very prudent in using the death penalty to execute perpetrators of economic crimes and the number of death penalties handed down to economic criminals is very small," Xinhua quoted him as saying.

"China has so far kept the death penalty system and the death penalty is applicable to serious economic crimes."

The death penalty has been politically useful for the Communist Party, which uses the execution of officials for corruption to answer mounting public concern and recent widely reported scandals.

On 10 July China executed Zheng Xiaoyu, former director of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), for corruption and dereliction of duty after he was convicted of accepting 6.49 million yuan (US$850,000) in bribes from pharmaceutical companies.

"The reason for Zheng Xiaoyu's death sentence was that the bribes he took were huge and he committed serious crimes," Gan said.

He said China retained the death penalty because of its particular circumstances and its cultural background.

"Different countries have different circumstances and have different cultural backgrounds and views on the death penalty. They also have different legal regulations, which is very natural," he said.

"The fact that China keeps the death penalty is due to its national conditions and cultural background. There is nothing to be criticized."

He claimed there were "very strict controls on the death penalty" and all the death penalty decisions were reviewed by the Supreme People's Court.

Human rights groups report the death penalty is applied to a wide range of crimes in China, and political interference in the justice system is common.

Related stories:
China executes drug regulator -- 12 July, 2007
China call for cautious death penalty - again -- 8 April, 2007
China: Judges try to limit death penalty -- 14 November, 2006
China reforms good, but not enough -- 8 November, 2006
China: Supreme Court review from January -- 1 November, 2006
Political questions over China's new appeal judges -- 2 July, 2006
China to retain death penalty, with reforms -- 13 March 2006