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

No comments: