Wednesday, 27 February 2019

JAPAN – World’s longest-serving death row inmate Iwao Hakamada

Source: Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network / Japan Times (16 February 2019)

The story of Iwao Hakamada, a former professional boxer and death-row inmate, 82, who continues to battle to clear his name over a 1966 quadruple murder, will be adapted into a manga series, supporters of the convict announced Wednesday.

Hakamada was sentenced to hang in 1968 by the Shizuoka District Court, but was freed in March 2014 after nearly 48 years in prison on death row. Much of that time was spent awaiting his retrial, which has yet to be held.

But a group of Hakamada’s supporters who believe the former boxer is innocent want to retell the events in his case in the form of a manga, to convey his side of the story to younger generations.

To better portray the atmosphere and circumstances surrounding Hakamada’s arrest and his trial, the supporters are working with a manga artist from Shizuoka Prefecture.

Shigemi Mori, 30, who shares Hakamada’s experience as a professional boxer, will create the series. In his younger years Mori lived in Shimizu, an area that is now part of the city of Shizuoka and is also where the 1966 murder occurred.

“I want to tell people how sloppily the investigation was conducted and what Hakamada’s life has been like, in as understandable a way as possible,” Mori said Wednesday at a news conference in Tokyo.

He said he learned about Hakamada’s case as a junior high school student and then-aspiring boxing apprentice, and started questioning the trial that put Hakamada behind bars.

Mori said he believes Hakamada is innocent. Nonetheless, he also said that he is keen to not “coerce readers to accept the supporters’ opinions, and to convey what really happened around Hakamada.”

The manga will be released in six episodes under the title “Split Decision,” with the first episode scheduled for publication on Feb. 15. Eight-page episodes will be published at on the same day of every month.

Those behind the project also plan to translate the series into English and make it available via YouTube to reach a global audience. “I like the title,” Hakamada’s elder sister Hideko said at the news conference. Conceived by Mori, the title is a winning criterion used in boxing matches in which two of three judges pick a different winner than the third judge.

The title also reflects supporters’ criticism of the “unfair” decision in which Hakamada was sentenced to death by a 2:1 majority. The courts’ decisions were split over DNA tests on bloodstained clothing found near the murder victims.

“I promised to do everything I can (to prove Iwao’s innocence) and I did,” Hideko said. She lamented, however, that her efforts to convey her plea have gone unheard.

“It won’t help anything if I tell his story, so I want to convey it through manga,” Hideko said.

Hakamada was a live-in employee at a soybean processing firm in Shizuoka when he was arrested in August 1966 for robbery and the murder of the firm’s senior managing director, his wife and two children. The police found their bodies with fatal stab wounds at their fire-damaged home.

Hakamada initially confessed to the charges, but changed his plea at trial.

The Shizuoka District Court found Hakamada guilty and sentenced him to death in 1968. The sentence was finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980.

Hakamada and his family have long sought retrials, to no avail. But a new development came in 2014 when the district court accepted DNA test results undermining the prosecution’s claim that Hakamada’s blood had been detected on clothing found at the crime scene. The court noted that the evidence could have been fabricated by police.

Then, last June, the Tokyo High Court overturned the lower court’s ruling granting the retrial, questioning the credibility of the DNA analysis method. Hakamada’s lawyers are planning to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court.

Hakamada’s case has gained international attention as the former boxer remains the world’s longest-serving death row inmate.

Japan’s capital punishment system has also been criticized internationally as inhumane.

Hideaki Nakagawa, director of human rights advocacy group Amnesty International Japan, who was present at the news conference, believes the manga will and should spark debate regarding capital punishment among the public.

As of January, 110 inmates were awaiting execution and 86 of them are seeking retrials, according to the Justice Ministry.

“The Justice Ministry says the death penalty system reflects public opinion and enjoys support from the public, but it’s misleading,” he said. “Some people already protest against it … and (the manga) could be thought-provoking for others, too, and could impact public perception.” – Japan Times, 23/1/2019

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Sri Lanka ready for landmark hanging of drug convicts: Minister

Source: Channel News Asia (5 February 2019)

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is ready to execute five drug convicts and end its 42-year capital punishment moratorium once President Maithripala Sirisena signs the death warrants and a hangman is appointed, officials said Tuesday (Feb 5).

Sirisena announced last year a tougher line on spiralling narcotics-related crime including executions for repeat drug offenders, inspired by a similar crackdown in the Philippines.

The country's justice minister told parliament Tuesday that legal and administrative procedures for the five condemned Sri Lankans were completed last month, paving the way for the first hangings since 1976.

"We have already complied with the president's request to restart capital punishment," Thalatha Athukorale said.

Five names had been sent to the president between Oct 12 and the end of January, but Sirisena was yet to sign the warrants and fix the execution dates, Athukorale added. There was no immediate comment from Sirisena's office on the cases.

Following a visit to the Philippines last month, Sirisena reaffirmed his plans to replicate his counterpart Rodrigo Duterte's "success" in dealing with illegal drugs.

Sirisena praised the "decisive action" of Duterte who has offered anti-narcotics help to Sri Lanka.

Duterte ran on a law-and-order platform that included promises to kill thousands of people involved in the drug trade, even officials.

"Even though I have not implemented some of the decisions of President Duterte, I will not bow to international non-governmental (rights) organisations and change my decision on death penalty for drug offences," Sirisena said last month.

Athukorale said there were 18 drug convicts who would qualify under Sirisena's guidelines to be hanged out of 376 convicts on death row.

But prisons spokesman Thushara Upuldeniya said authorities were still trying to fill a vacancy for an executioner.

Light work and a salary of 35,000 rupees (US$200) a month was offered in advertisements placed last year, but no suitable candidate came forward, he said.

"Technically, we don't have a hangman right now, but if the need arises, we should be able to get one fairly quickly," Upuldeniya told AFP.

While Sri Lanka's last execution was more than four decades ago, an executioner functioned until his retirement in 2014. Three replacements since have quit after short stints at the unused gallows.

Criminals are regularly given death sentences for murder, rape and drug-related crimes but their punishments have been commuted to life.

International rights groups have urged Sri Lanka not to revive capital punishment.

Source: AFP/aa

Monday, 4 February 2019

India: 2018 saw highest death penalties since 2000

Source: Anadolu Agency (25 January 2019)

In nearly two decades, Indian courts awarded highest number of death penalties last year, a new report has found.

According to The Indian Express, a local daily, the report -- Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics Report 2018 -- released by New Delhi-based National Law University said that courts pronounced 162 death sentences in 2018 which are highest in a year since 2000.

India is one of the countries where awarding capital punishment is legal. In 2017, Indian courts had pronounced capital punishment to 108 persons.

The daily noted that rise in death penalties could be a result of an amended law, under which the capital punishment can be given to those convicted of rape and gang rape of girls below the age of 12.

On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old student was brutally assaulted with iron rods and gangraped in a private bus in the capital New Delhi -- a horrific crime that roused anger in India. The then government set up a panel which suggested changes in Indian Panel Code (IPC), which were subsequently adopted by Indian Parliament in August 2018.

According to the report, eight of 29 Indian states -- Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura -- did not award any death sentence during this period.

The report notes that most of the death penalties were awarded by trial courts which can be challenged in Supreme Court of India.

Last year, the Supreme Court had commuted death sentences to life imprisonment in 11 of the 12 cases it heard, the daily noted.

The spike in capital punishment has triggered a debate in India.

Rebecca John, an Indian lawyer, told The Wire, a local news website: “This scheme is a serious abnegation of all constitutional principles settled over decades by courts of law, and poses a direct threat to the fundamental right to life and liberty.”