Japan: Secret execution as authorities ignore calls for reform

The execution of two men in Japan on Friday flies in the face of growing calls in the country to halt the use of capital punishment, said Amnesty International.

Mitsuhiro Kobayashi, 56, and Tsutomu Takamizawa, 59 were hanged early on Friday morning. Kobayashi was executed at Sendai detention centre and Takamizawa at Tokyo detention centre. Both had been convicted of murder.

“It is chilling that the Japanese authorities continue to send people to the gallows despite serious questions over the use of the death penalty in the country,” said Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

A lack of adequate legal safeguards for people facing the death penalty in Japan has been widely criticized.  This includes defendants being denied adequate legal counsel from the time of arrest, a lack of a mandatory appeal process for capital cases and detention in prolonged solitary confinement.

Several prisoners suffering from mental illness are also known to have been executed or remain on death row.

“This state-sanctioned killing is the ultimate cruel and inhumane punishment. The government should halt all future executions as a first step towards abolition,” said Hiroka Shoji.

The latest executions bring the total executed in Japan in 2014 to three. Since Prime Minister Abe’s government took office in December 2012 eleven people have now been hanged, whilst a total of 127 people remain on death row.

“Human rights are being side-lined under Prime Minister Abe’s government. The past two years has been marked by a series of regressive steps, including the refusal to act on UN bodies’ calls to address human rights violations,” said Hiroka Shoji.

Serious flaws over the use of the death penalty in Japan were underlined in March, when a court ordered the temporary release 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 that the police were likely to have fabricated evidence.

Executions in Japan are shrouded in secrecy 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.

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.