Japan: Secret execution a stain on justice system

The Japanese authorities’ determination to continue with secret executions despite growing concern on the use of the death penalty in the country is a scar on the justice system, said Amnesty International. 

Masanori Kawasaki, 68 was hanged early on Thursday morning at Osaka detention centre. He was convicted in 2008 of the murder of three relatives. 

The execution is the first since a court ordered the immediate release in March of Hakamada Iwao, who spent more than four decades on death row after an unfair trial. Prosecutors have appealed the decision to grant Hakamada a retrial, despite the court stating police were likely to have fabricated evidence.

“It is deplorable that not long after fundamental flaws in Japan’s criminal justice system were so blatantly exposed, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki has chosen to sign another death warrant,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.

“Instead of sending more people to the gallows there needs to be urgent reform of a justice system that at present is not worthy of the name.” 

The execution– the first in 2014 – is the ninth since Prime Minister Abe’s government took office in December 2012. In Japan, the Justice Minister must authorize executions before they can be carried out. A total of 128 people remain on death row in Japan. 

“This latest execution is at odds with growing calls within Japan for a halt in the use of the death penalty and calls for greater openness. The government needs to show leadership and start a full public debate on the use of the death penalty as an important first step to abolition,” said Roseann Rife.

In February, a group of former lay judges urged the Minister of Justice to halt executions until there is greater transparency in the use of capital punishment.

Executions are shrouded in secrecy in Japan with prisoners typically given only a few hours’ notice, but some may be given no warning at all. Their families are usually notified about the execution only after it has taken place. 

“Death row inmates live under the constant fear of execution, never knowing from one day or the next if they are going to be put to death. This is adds psychological torture to an already cruel and inhumane punishment,” said Roseann Rife.

Japan is the only country other than the USA in the G8 group of countries to still use capital punishment. During 2013, overall only 22 countries – about one in 10 of all countries worldwide carried out executions. 

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime, the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the offender or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.