Thursday, 21 December 2006

Executions may resume in Japan

Lawyers and human rights activists in Japan fear the government may soon resume executions, after a break of about 15 months.

The recent appointment of a new Justice Minister, and the end of sittings of the Japanese Diet (parliament), have raised concerns that the country may again activate its secretive death penalty system.

Executions in Japan are usually carried out when the Diet is not in session, which campaigners say is deliberately timed to avoid scrutiny and debate about the death penalty.

The last execution in Japan was reported to have been on 16 September 2005.

Makoto Teranaka, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur that the end of the current parliamentary session "raises the possibility that executions will be carried out".

Last week Japan's bar association appealed to Justice Minister Jinen Nagase not to approve any executions.

The organisation warned him of the potential for innocent people to be executed and cited the worldwide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty.

Minister 'ready to sign'
Following Jinen Nagase's appointment as Justice Minister on 26 September, The Japan Times reported he would sign execution orders when a prisoner's death sentence was finalised.

"I realise there have been voices against the death penalty itself," he said.

"But considering the feelings of the victims and maintaining order in the society, I do not dispute the death penalty."

The report said the minister told his inaugural media conference that a finalised verdict under law must be carried out.

"It's about ending a person's life, so it must be given careful consideration," Nagase said.

"But rulings by the courts must not be ignored."

'Personal feelings'
Japan's previous Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura, a Buddhist, had said he would not sign execution orders due to his religious beliefs, a move that divided legal opinion in the country.

After he was appointed in October 2005, he told a media conference: "I'll not sign (execution orders). It's a matter of my thoughts, religious beliefs and philosophy."

He later ‘clarified’ his remarks and said: "I only described my personal feelings. I didn't talk about performing my official duties."

He said if he was presented with an execution order to sign, he would "make judgments in an appropriate manner".

No prisoners were executed during his time in office.

Legal opinion divided
Legal commentators were divided on Sugiura's remarks.

Ryukoku University Professor Shinichi Ishizuka told Mainichi Newspapers that the minister's caution was appropriate in relation to death penalty cases.

"The Code of Criminal Procedure empowers a justice minister to issue execution orders because the law calls for cautious judgment," he said.

"The law may expect a justice minister to exercise leadership in such decisions depending on the trends of the times.

"It's an international trend to decrease the death penalty. I appreciate Sugiura's cautious attitude toward the death penalty," Ishizuka said.

Other academics argued the minister had failed to perform his official duties.

Chuo University Professor Emeritus Toyo Atsumi said: "It's a matter of course that he must abide by the Code of Criminal Procedure that stipulates that a just minister must issue execution orders.

"His refusal to do so means he has failed to fulfill his official duty as justice minister. The prime minister should dismiss such a minister," he said.

"Mr. Sugiura is a lawyer, so if he had no intention of issuing execution orders, he shouldn't have accepted the post of justice minister in the first place," Atsumi said.

Related stories:
Long wait, sudden death in Japan -- 28 August, 2006
Japan: Lonely wait for the noose -- 5 Apr 2006
Japan's death row hell -- 3 Mar 2006

No comments: