Saturday, 22 December 2007

Australia: Ronald Ryan exhumed from prison grounds

The last man executed in Australia was yesterday exhumed from the grounds of the former Pentridge Prison.

Melbourne newspaper the Herald Sun reported a small group of workers exhumed the remains with former prison chaplain Father Peter Norden watching from the side.

It said the workers commenced digging at the eastern end of the former D Division building and found Ryan's coffin in "reasonable condition".

Daughter Wendy Ryan declined to comment saying it was "a very private thing".

The Herald Sun reported in October that Ryan's three daughters planned to bury their father with his wife Dorothy Pirois at a cemetery in Portland.

The report said the family would pay for the State Coroner's office to conduct DNA tests to confirm the remains are those of their father.

The last man
Ryan was hanged on 3 February, 1967 for the murder of prisoner officer George Hodson, who was shot during an escape from Pentridge the previous year.

He was buried the day of his execution in an unmarked grave in the prison grounds.

The site of the former prison is now being redeveloped for commercial and residential use.

Related stories:
Ryan hanging: Two groups of victims -- 2 March, 2007
'Ryan was innocent': lawyer - 13 February, 2007
Ronald Ryan forty years on -- 5 February, 2007

Picture: Ryan captured after 17 days on the run

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Japan finally names three executed

Japan lifted some of the secrecy surrounding its death penalty system when it released the names of three men hanged on Friday (7 December).

The Justice Ministry confirmed that Seiha Fujima, 47, and Hiroki Fukawa, 42, were hanged in Tokyo, and 75-year-old Noboru Ikemoto was hanged in Osaka. All three were hanged for murder.

In the past the government refused to confirm the details of executed prisoners, although they were often reported by Japanese newspapers and human rights organisations.

Newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported it was "the first disclosure [of executed prisoners' names] in the history of the nation's postwar judicial system".

It said the ministry distributed three sheets of paper to the media shortly after 11am, detailing the names and crimes of the three men, and where they were executed.

Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama also announced details of the executions that day at a meeting of the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee.

"It was painful to sign the executions, because it meant I was taking lives by using the state authority," he told the committee.

But he said they would help restore public safety, "soothe victims' feelings and meet the public's expectations".

The newspaper reported there was confusion among members of the parliamentary committee after the details were announced.

It said Democratic Party of Japan member Ritsuo Hosokawa stopped questioning the minster about the death penalty after he made the announcement.

"It came as a shock," Hosokawa said.

Unprecedented openness
Asahi Shimbun said the information was released for a number of reasons stemming from changes to the nation's justice system, including "the trend toward greater information disclosure, and the approaching start of the lay judge system".

It said sources indicated the justice minister also saw a "need to give more consideration to bereaved families of crime victims".

Later that day, the minister told a press conference that disclosing the details would generate public support for the executions.

"Disclosing their names and details of their crimes is the way to obtain the public's consent," he said.

An unnamed senior ministry official was quoted as saying: "With the general progression in disclosure of government information, it has become difficult to cling to a hard stance only when it comes to executions."

Japan has now executed nine people this year, with three other men being hanged in April and three in August.

There are 104 prisoners still on death row.

More 'tranquil' minister
In October Hatoyama speculated about whether there was a more "tranquil" method of execution than hanging.

In September he sparked controversy when he announced the establishment of a group to study whether the justice minister could delegate the power to authorise executions, so there was an "automatic and objective" procedure for executing

He said at the time that "no one" wanted to sign an execution order.

Human rights condemnation
The United Nations (UN) top human rights official deplored the latest executions and encouraged Japan to reconsider its use of the death penalty.

"This practice is problematic under international law, and I call on Japan to reconsider its approach in this regard," said Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The UN News Service reported her particular "dismay" at the execution of a prisoner over 75.

She said "it is difficult to see what legitimate purpose is served by carrying out such executions of the elderly, and at the very least on humanitarian grounds, I would urge Japan to refrain from such action".

Japan also executed elderly men on 25 December, 2006, when men aged 75 and 77 years old were among four prisoners hanged.

The UN news story noted reports that the executions were carried out suddenly with neither the prisoners nor their families being given advance warning.

The UN News Service said Arbour urged the Japanese Government to implement a moratorium on executions or ban the practice altogether, as a growing number of nations have.

Amnesty International strongly condemned the executions, which it said took place "despite the UN General Assembly's adoption of a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions on 15 November".

"Executions in Japan are typically held in secret. Prisoners are only informed hours before their executions and carried out without prior notice to the prisoners or their family," the organisation noted in a statement.

Related stories:
Minister wants ‘tranquil’ killing: Japan -- 29 October, 2007
Japan: New minister will approve hangings -- 4 September, 2007
Japan executed mentally ill man -- 26 August, 2007
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

Thursday, 6 December 2007

North Korea: Shot for making phone calls

North Korea has executed a man in a crowded stadium for making international phone calls, part of what a South Korean aid agency described as a resumption of public executions.

According to the Associated Press, a report from South Korean aid agency Good Friends said a factory manager was shot in front of a crowd of 150,000 people in October. (Story also here.)

The head of a factory in South Pyongan province was reportedly executed by firing squad for making international calls on 13 phones he installed in a factory basement.

Good Friends said in late November that there had been an increase in public executions, particularly of officials accused of drug trafficking, embezzlement and other crimes.

It said there had been four similar public executions of regional officials and factory heads in recent months.

"It is aimed at educating [North Koreans] to control society and prevent crimes," Good Friends head Venerable Pomnyun said.

The Associated Press said public executions had declined in North Korea since 2000, in the face of international criticism of the country's record on human rights.

It said most North Koreans were banned from communicating with the outside world.

UN vote
On 20 November a United Nations committee passed a draft resolution critical of widespread human rights violations in North Korea, including public executions, systematic torture and punishment of people for trying to leave the country.

The Third Committee of the General Assembly debated the draft resolution, moved by Japan and Portugal, on behalf of the European Union, and co-sponsored by 50 countries.

The resolution, entitled Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (document A/C.3/62/L.37/Rev.1), called on the country to take steps to address serious violations of human rights.

According to a UN report on the meeting, the representative of North Korea "said he categorically rejected the draft resolution, which was full of false information and was being pursued for a sinister political purpose".

He said the reolution "was a part of a plot ... to eliminate his country's ideas and system".

The Committee passed the resolution by a recorded vote of 97 in favour to 23 against, with 60 abstentions.

It will be presented to the next session of the General Assembly for a final vote.

Additional information
When Amnesty International (AI) released its annual statistical survey of the death penalty in April 2008, it highlighted the execution of a North Korean factory manager. It is likely the reports from AI and Good Friends are referring to the same case.

AI's media release said he was among the people executed for crimes that were "not commonly considered criminal, or after unfair procedures".

The release said: "A 75 year-old North Korean factory manager was shot by firing squad in October for failing to declare his family background, investing his own money in the factory, appointing his children as its managers and making international phone calls."