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

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