Friday, 18 September 2009

Japan: New justice minister urges debate

From The Japan Times, 18 September 2009

Chiba urges death penalty debate
Kyodo News

New Justice Minister Keiko Chiba said Thursday she will deal carefully with death penalty cases and called for a wide-ranging debate on whether capital punishment should be abolished.

"The death penalty involves a person's life, so I will cautiously handle (the cases) based on the duties of the justice minister," Chiba, a former lawyer, said at a news conference following the first meeting of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's new Cabinet.

The 61-year-old native of Kanagawa Prefecture said discussions are taking place on keeping or abolishing the death penalty, including whether it should be replaced with a new sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.

"The lay judge system has been introduced and I believe many people have a very deep interest and various thoughts (on the issue), so I think it is something that we should find a path for through a wide-ranging public debate, if possible," she said.

Chiba said she won't give special treatment to cases involving Democratic Party of Japan leaders, such as one in which Hatoyama's fundraising body was found to have received contributions from dead people and another where a close aide to DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa was indicted over a fundraising scandal involving Nishimatsu Construction Co.

"They are not special so I would like to make appropriate decisions," said Chiba, who is a member of the Upper House.

On her Web site associated with the DPJ's Kanagawa prefectural chapter, Chiba lists the death penalty as a problem she would like to see eliminated during the 21st century. She argues that the death penalty prevents crime and forces offenders to take responsibility, but it is not the best solution.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Japan continues to execute mentally ill prisoners

10 September 2009

The government of Japan continues to execute prisoners who are mentally ill, according to a new Amnesty International report.

Hanging by a thread: mental health and the death penalty in Japan highlights five cases where mental illness has been reported, including two cases with extensive medical documentation. These prisoners remain on death row facing execution.

The exact number of death row prisoners with mental illness is unknown. The secrecy around the death penalty and prisoners' health, combined with a lack of scrutiny by independent mental health experts, has led to reliance on secondary testimony and documentation to assess the mental state of those on death row.

The government has a policy of not allowing access to prisoners on death row and denied Amnesty International's request for access.

Amnesty International's report also emphasises that prison conditions need to be improved to prevent inmates from developing serious mental health problems while on death row.

Japan has signed up to international standards that require that those with a serious mental illness be protected from the death penalty. The country is contravening those standards by its failure to prevent the execution of prisoners who are mentally ill.

As of 3 September 2009, 102 people are on death row in Japan waiting to find out if their government will put them to death. For those who have completed the legal process, death could come at a few hours' notice. Each day could be their last.

The arrival of a prison officer with a death warrant would signal their execution within hours. Some live like this year after year, sometimes for decades.

"To allow a prisoner to live for prolonged periods under the daily threat of imminent death is cruel, inhuman and degrading," said James Welsh, Amnesty International’s Health Coordinator and lead author of the report. "Amnesty International’s studies around the world have shown that those suffering mental health problems are at particular risk of ending up on death row.

"Mental disorders can give rise to crimes, impair the ability of a defendant to participate in an effective legal defence, and are likely to play a significant role in the decision of prisoners to terminate appeals. In Japan, condemned inmates are also at risk of developing a serious mental illness while on death row."

According to the report, Japan is breaching its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in its treatment of prisoners on death row. Conditions in prisons are harsh and prisoners on death row are especially vulnerable to developing mental health problems due to being imprisoned in isolation with little human contact.

Amnesty International is concerned that prisoners are not allowed to talk to one another – a restriction enforced by strict isolation. Contact with family members, lawyers and others can be restricted to as little as five minutes at a time.

Apart from visits to the toilet, prisoners are not allowed to move around the cell and must remain seated. Death row prisoners are less likely than other prisoners to have access to fresh air and light and more likely to suffer additional punishments because of behaviour that may infringe the strict rules imposed on them.

"These inhuman conditions increase a prisoner’s anxiety and anguish and in many cases push prisoners over the edge and into a state of mental illness," said James Welsh.

The report calls on the government of Japan to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. It also urges the government of Japan to review all cases where mental illness may be a relevant factor, to ensure that prisoners with mental illness are not executed and to improve conditions for prisoners so that prisoners will not suffer declining mental health or the development of serious mental illness.


The report is available here.

Indonesia: State-secrets law would carry death penalty

From The Jakarta Post, 10 September, 2009

The House of Representatives and the government have agreed to pass a state secrecy bill which would see people found guilty of leaking state secrets face the death penalty.

A member of the House's working committee deliberating the bill, Effendi Choirie, said Thursday lawmakers had approved a maximum penalty of 20 years of imprisonment or capital punishment and a minimum jail sentence of four years and fine of Rp 100 million (US$10,000) for the crime.

The committee has also reached an agreement on the definition of state secrets.

"State secrets are defined as information or materials and activities, which are classified as secrets by the president, and could potentially endanger the state, its existence and integrity if they are leaked to people who do not have the right to possess them," chairman of the committee, Guntur Sasono of the Democratic Party, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

According to Effendi of the National Awakening Party (PKB), details of the definition were available in the following articles.

"For example, only intelligence-sensitive information is classified as secret," he said in response to public fears that the definition of state secrets would be too generic and open to abuse.

In response to the ongoing deliberation of the bill, research coordinator of human rights group Imparsial, Al Araf, said that even though some of the bill’s controversial content had been dropped, the draft in general restricts the public from accessing vital information.

"It is already difficult for us to investigate human rights violations in the absence of a state secrecy law, let alone with one," he said.