Japan

Prosecutors push for the death penalty only in the case of multiple murders, or single murder with aggravating circumstances.] Judges usually impose death penalty in case of multiple homicides. Between 1946 and 2003 766 people were sentenced to death, 608 of whom were executed. For 40 months from 1989 to 1993 successive ministers of justice refused to authorise executions, which amounted to an informal moratorium. (See Capital punishment in Japan)

Japan: Death-row inmate hanged for 2007 murder

June 26, 2015

TOKYO — A man convicted of murdering a woman in 2007 in Nagoya was executed on Thursday morning, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said.
It was the first execution that Kamikawa has signed off on since becoming justice minister and the 12th since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December 2012.
Tsukasa Kanda, 44, was convicted along with accomplices Yoshimoto Hori and Yuichiro Hondo of killing 31-year-old Rie Isogai on Aug 24, 2007, in Aichi Prefecture.
The men, who met on a website set up to bring “crime-minded” people together, were convicted of abducting Isogai with the intention of robbing her. They then killed her to prevent her from testifying against them.
Kanda and Hori were sentenced to death. Kawagishi received a life prison term in return for having turned himself in and providing evidence that aided the police investigation. Hori’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison, following an appeal.
The case took an unusual turn when Isogai’s mother drew up a petition for the death penalty for Hori, that was signed by 100,000 citizens within 10 days. She presented the petition with some 150,000 names to the District Public Prosecutor’s Office of Nagoya. The number increased to 318,000 by December 2008. However, the Supreme Court rejected the request.
Source: Japan Today, June 25, 2015

 

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TOKYO – Man freed from death row after 48 years will require 6 months in hospital, says sister

march 30, 2014

TOKYO —A man believed to be the world’s longest-serving death row inmate, who walked free from jail on Thursday after decades in solitary confinement, will require hospital treatment for about six months, his sister said Saturday.

An unsteady-looking Iwao Hakamada, 78, emerged from the Tokyo prison with his campaigning sister after Shizuoka District Court ordered a fresh trial over the grisly 1966 murder of his boss and the man’s family.

On Friday, he underwent a medical check-up, but his sister Hideko, 81, said the years of confinement had left her brother mentally and physically unstable, TBS reported. She said he was having trouble making conversation and simple decisions.

After his arrest, Hakamada initially denied accusations that he robbed and killed his boss, the man’s wife and their two children before setting their house ablaze.

But the former boxer, who worked for a bean-paste maker, later confessed following what he subsequently claimed was a brutal police interrogation that included beatings.

He retracted his confession, but to no avail, and the supreme court confirmed his death sentence in 1980.

Prosecutors and courts had used blood-stained clothes, which only emerged a year after the crime and his arrest, as key evidence to convict Hakamada.

The clothes did not fit him, his supporters said. The blood stains appeared too vivid for evidence that was discovered so long after the crime. Later DNA tests found no link between Hakamada, the clothes and the blood stains, his supporters said.

But Hakamada remained in solitary confinement on death row, regardless.

Japan Today/AFP

Japan: Top court upholds death penalty for man over Osaka fatal arson

march 7, 2014

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld lower court rulings that sentenced a man to death for killing 16 people by setting fire to a video-viewing parlor in Osaka in 2008 in a failed suicide attempt.

The highest court’s 5-justice first petty bench led by Justice Tomoyuki Yokota turned down an appeal filed by Kazuhiro Ogawa, 52, against decisions by the Osaka district court in 2009 and high court in 2011.

Ogawa had pleaded not guilty, and denied setting fire to the parlor.

Justice Yokota said the accused “committed an extremely selfish crime” and the death penalty is unavoidable as Ogawa “has not sincerely reflected on” his conduct. The arson “caused major shock and anxiety to society,” Yokota added.

According to the lower court rulings, Ogawa set fire to a room at a video-viewing parlor in Osaka’s Naniwa Ward at around 3 a.m. on Oct. 1, 2008, in a bid to commit suicide.

The fire destroyed the store completely, killed 16 customers and injured 4 others.

(source: Mainichi News)

Hakamada Iwao and the Declining Support for Japan’s Death Penalty

february 23 2014

Since conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power in December 2012, eight Japanese prisoners have been executed. A 2009 government poll, often cited when the issue of capital punishment is raised in Japan, claims that 86 percent of the Japanese public was in favor of the practice. However, more recent research from Oxford University reveals diminished enthusiasm for the death penalty among questions over its place in modern society.

Japan – a country that prefers hangings to the “more humane” method of lethal injection – has drawn widespread criticism from rights groups across the globe for its practice of so-called “secret” executions.

“Prisoners, who spend years, even decades, on death row, typically are not told of their execution until hours before they are led to the gallows,” reported The Guardian. “Their lawyers and relatives are informed only after the execution has been carried out.”

Mitsuo Fujishima and Ryoji Kagayama – convicted of two murders each – were both hung in December without prior notice. One hundred and twenty nine inmates await execution in Japan, including a man who has been on death row for more than 45 years.

The story of Iwao Hakamada provides a rallying cry for anti-death penalty advocates. Hakamada, 77, is the world’s longest serving death row inmate. Once a professional boxer, he was sentenced to death for murdering a family of four in 1968. More than half of his live has been lived behind bars, including 30 years in a solitary confinement cell.

“There has long been speculation Hakamada was innocent, and in 2007 one of the three judges who originally convicted him publicly declared he had thought Hakamada was innocent,” wrote Daily Mail. “Amnesty International claims new DNA tests undertaken in 2012 point to Hakamada’s innocence.”

Hakamada’s 80-year-old sister, who has spent decades campaigning for her brother’s release, said that a lifetime in jail has caused him to lose touch with reality.

“If you put someone in jail for [that long], it’s too much to expect them to stay sane,” she said.

A survey of 20,000 Japanese citizens carried out by Mai Sato, a criminology researcher at Oxford University, points to changing attitudes about the death penalty. She separated respondents into groups of individuals who were either for, against or undecided on the subject.

Each group was then split down the middle – one half was given a “detailed explanation of the execution process and the potential for miscarriages of justice” while the other half wasn’t.

Of the informed group, only 36 percent supported the continued use of capital punishment. In the uninformed group, 46 percent were for the death penalty – nearly half of the government’s reported figures.

“I think my survey can show that even if the government abolishes the death penalty tomorrow, the people will be able to accept that,” Sato told AFP. “If they want to kill a prisoner based on a public opinion survey, then that survey really needs to be sound.”

Amnesty International praised Sato’s findings and pointed to a lack of information about capital punishment being available to the Japanese public.

“In Japan, facts about the death penalty are kept secret,” said Louise Vicher, the coordinator of the Asia Pacific Anti-Death Penalty Project at Amnesty International. “Support is known to decline when injustices or unfairness in death penalty cases hit the media, like the case of Hakamada … [It] makes people feel uncomfortable.”

Last Saturday, a Tokyo movie theater opened “Death Penalty Movie Week” to spread awareness about the divisive issue. Eurospace Shibuya will show eight films from around the world that use capital punishment as a central theme. It is the theater’s third time hosting the event.

Masakuni Ota, one of the event’s organizers, said that the event seeks to “provide people with information on capital punishment through movies at a time when many of them support the death penalty without knowing its true nature.”

Hakamada Iwao and the Declining Support for Japan’s Death Penalty

february 21, 2014

Since conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power in December 2012, eight Japanese prisoners have been executed. A 2009 government poll, often cited when the issue of capital punishment is raised in Japan, claims that 86 percent of the Japanese public was in favor of the practice. However, more recent research from Oxford University reveals diminished enthusiasm for the death penalty among questions over its place in modern society.

Japan – a country that prefers hangings to the “more humane” method of lethal injection – has drawn widespread criticism from rights groups across the globe for its practice of so-called “secret” executions.

“Prisoners, who spend years, even decades, on death row, typically are not told of their execution until hours before they are led to the gallows,” reported The Guardian. “Their lawyers and relatives are informed only after the execution has been carried out.”

Mitsuo Fujishima and Ryoji Kagayama – convicted of two murders each – were both hung in December without prior notice. One hundred and twenty nine inmates await execution in Japan, including a man who has been on death row for more than 45 years.

The story of Iwao Hakamada provides a rallying cry for anti-death penalty advocates. Hakamada, 77, is the world’s longest serving death row inmate. Once a professional boxer, he was sentenced to death for murdering a family of four in 1968. More than half of his live has been lived behind bars, including 30 years in a solitary confinement cell.

“There has long been speculation Hakamada was innocent, and in 2007 one of the three judges who originally convicted him publicly declared he had thought Hakamada was innocent,” wrote Daily Mail. “Amnesty International claims new DNA tests undertaken in 2012 point to Hakamada’s innocence.”

Hakamada’s 80-year-old sister, who has spent decades campaigning for her brother’s release, said that a lifetime in jail has caused him to lose touch with reality.

“If you put someone in jail for [that long], it’s too much to expect them to stay sane,” she said.

A survey of 20,000 Japanese citizens carried out by Mai Sato, a criminology researcher at Oxford University, points to changing attitudes about the death penalty. She separated respondents into groups of individuals who were either for, against or undecided on the subject.

Each group was then split down the middle – one half was given a “detailed explanation of the execution process and the potential for miscarriages of justice” while the other half wasn’t.

Of the informed group, only 36 percent supported the continued use of capital punishment. In the uninformed group, 46 percent were for the death penalty – nearly half of the government’s reported figures.

“I think my survey can show that even if the government abolishes the death penalty tomorrow, the people will be able to accept that,” Sato told AFP. “If they want to kill a prisoner based on a public opinion survey, then that survey really needs to be sound.”

Amnesty International praised Sato’s findings and pointed to a lack of information about capital punishment being available to the Japanese public.

“In Japan, facts about the death penalty are kept secret,” said Louise Vicher, the coordinator of the Asia Pacific Anti-Death Penalty Project at Amnesty International. “Support is known to decline when injustices or unfairness in death penalty cases hit the media, like the case of Hakamada … [It] makes people feel uncomfortable.”

Last Saturday, a Tokyo movie theater opened “Death Penalty Movie Week” to spread awareness about the divisive issue. Eurospace Shibuya will show eight films from around the world that use capital punishment as a central theme. It is the theater’s third time hosting the event.

Masakuni Ota, one of the event’s organizers, said that the event seeks to “provide people with information on capital punishment through movies at a time when many of them support the death penalty without knowing its true nature.”

Japan: Public backing of death penalty questioned

february 7, 2014

Japan’s opinion polls skewed, exaggerate support: Oxford expert

LONDON – When defending Japan’s use of the death penalty, the government always cites overwhelming public support for the policy, and the last survey in 2009 showed 86 percent backed the status quo.

But a major new study by an academic in Britain shows “serious flaws” in Tokyo’s assertion that the death penalty is universally popular and should therefore be maintained.

Mai Sato, from Oxford University’s Centre for Criminology, shows that views are much less entrenched than previously thought, particularly after people have been exposed to more information on the subject.

She recently presented her findings to the British Parliament’s group on the abolition of the death penalty, which, along with the Foreign Office, hopes the study will help contribute to a change of stance in Japan, one of the few developed democracies that still retain the practice.

One of Sato’s main contentions is that questions used in government public opinion surveys are phrased in a way that results in an exaggerated level of support for the death penalty.

Sato decided to conduct her own survey of around 20,000 people in Japan and gave respondents five options regarding the death penalty: should definitely be kept (44 percent), should probably be kept (36 percent), cannot say (16 percent), should probably be abolished (3 percent) and should definitely be abolished (1 percent).

She argues the results show that rather than being overwhelmingly in favor, just over half of the Japanese public is either “undecided” or “lukewarm” toward the death penalty.

Sato then decided to take 1,000 people from the survey and split them into two groups that each had an equal proportion of those in the pro, anti and undecided camps.

The former would be provided with several facts about the death penalty — such as the execution process and the possibility of miscarriages of justice — while the other group would receive no additional information.

The results said 36 percent supported retaining the death penalty in the first group versus 46 percent in the latter group.

A final study saw a group of people deliberating the issue over a day. Findings showed views often fluctuated on the matter, while participants also become more tolerant of opposing views, said Sato.

In an interview, Sato said that while governments should reflect public opinion, they also have a duty to protect human rights.

Rather than measure support for the death penalty, Sato thinks the government should measure the level of tolerance toward abolition. She believes her research shows a majority of the Japanese public is likely to “accept or tolerate” abolition.

The academic says that unless the government changes the way it measures public opinion, Japan will continue to receive “further international criticism.”

Responding to the study, Louise Vischer, coordinator of the Asia Pacific Anti Death Penalty Project at Amnesty International, said the validity of opinion polls is flawed because of Japan’s lack of disclosure.

“I question how opinion polls can be a fair judge when, in Japan, facts around the death penalty are kept secret.

“The timing of conducting polls is critical. Support is known to decline when injustices or unfairness in death penalty cases hit the media, like the case of Iwao Hakamada, who is suffering from a mental illness after being on death row for 44 years following an unfair trial. This makes people feel uncomfortable,” he said.

Vivien Stern, a member of Britain’s House of Lords who heads the group on the abolition of the death penalty, said she has an ongoing dialog with the Japanese Embassy in London and hopes this unique research will be influential.

She said: “I’m sure someone in the government will hear about this and begin to think about how they rely on public opinion. I hope it may be a little step forward in persuading the Japanese government that there is another way of looking at this issue.” (Source: The Japan Times)

 

JAPAN: Justice Ministry frustrated by delays in executing Aum Shinrikyo founder

Justice Ministry officials are growing increasingly irritated over moves that have delayed the execution of a man held responsible for 27 murders and fears that gripped the nation in the 1990s.

Defense lawyers have filed yet another appeal for a retrial of Chizuo Matsumoto, the founder of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that spread nerve gas in public and killed its opponents during its reign of terror.

Matsumoto, 58, the blind and bearded guru who went by the name of Shoko Asahara when he led the doomsday cult, was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court in February 2004.

He was convicted of masterminding more than 10 crimes that killed a total of 27 people, including 12 in the sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995 and eight in a sarin attack on a residential area in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in June 1994.

3 victims–an anti-Aum lawyer, his wife and their child–were murdered in November 1989.

The Supreme Court finalized Matsumoto’s death sentence in September 2006.

A senior ministry official said the public is demanding justice, given the high death toll from Aum’s crimes that were ordered by Matsumoto.

“The people will not support his escape from the death penalty,” the official said. “As long as the (capital punishment) system exists, the execution of his death sentence is unavoidable ‘homework.'”

Matsumoto’s defense team submitted its 1st appeal for a retrial in November 2008. 4 days after that appeal was rejected in September 2010, the defense team submitted a 2nd appeal.

On May 8 this year, the Supreme Court rejected the 2nd appeal, saying there is no reason to start a retrial. The next day, the defense submitted its 3rd appeal for a retrial to the Tokyo District Court.

Under the Criminal Procedure Law, courts can grant retrials under certain circumstances, including the discovery of new evidence.

However, Justice Ministry officials say Matsumoto’s lawyers are simply nitpicking at the procedures in his trial to prevent him from being sent to the gallows.

The ministry official emphasized that executions are possible even after the defense applies for a retrial.

“In the case of a death-row inmate repeatedly submitting appeals that have little substance, we can carry out the death sentence,” the official said.

In 1999, a death-row inmate was executed even though a court was examining his seventh appeal for a retrial.

However, the Justice Ministry customarily does not execute criminals during their appeals for retrials. It has shown more caution since the 1980s, when 4 death-row inmates were acquitted after their retrials were granted.

Another custom in the ministry is to refrain from executing prisoners when the trials of their accomplices are continuing because the death-row inmate could be summoned to testify.

The trials of 3 former Aum members, including Katsuya Takahashi, 55, who was arrested and indicted on murder charges in 2012 after years on the run, have yet to start.

“If it is decided that Matsumoto’s testimony is unnecessary in the trials for the 3, there will be no obstacle in executing him even if a court is examining his appeal for a retrial,” the ministry official said.

However, some legal experts are calling on the ministry to show restraint during the appeal process.

“Under the current system, the only way to oppose a ruling after a death sentence is finalized is to appeal for a retrial,” said Shinichi Ishizuka, a professor of criminal law and procedure at Ryukoku University’s Graduate School of Law.

Ishizuka also said Matsumoto’s defense team is simply doing its job.

“The defense lawyers’ biggest mission is to protect the rights of death-row inmates,” the professor said. “What the defense team (for Matsumoto) is doing is a legitimate act.”

One other issue concerning Matsumoto’s death sentence is his mental health.

The Criminal Procedure Law stipulates that executions must be suspended for “insane” inmates who cannot understand the meaning of their death sentences.

Defense lawyers say Matsumoto falls under this category.

Matsumoto last appeared in public when the Tokyo District Court handed down its ruling in February 2004.

During his trial, he wore diapers, muttered to himself and sometimes burst out laughing for no apparent reason.

One source said of Matsumoto: “He uses a wheelchair to go to the yard. Even if I ask him something, he does not respond at all. He has become thinner than before, and his physical health condition is good.”

Author and psychiatrist Otohiko Kaga, who interviewed Matsumoto in 2006, recalled: “I was immediately aware that he is not pretending to be suffering from a mental disease. He was suffering from an emotional breakdown that resulted from his confinement. His (mental) condition was not one that makes it possible to carry out the death sentence.”

The Justice Ministry official, however, said Matsumoto is faking it.

“Matsumoto is acting abnormally to pretend that he is suffering from a mental disease. This poses no problem in executing his death sentence,” the official said.

In recent years, Matsumoto has refused to meet people, even his defense lawyers. His self-imposed isolation makes it difficult to confirm if he actually has psychiatric problems.

(source: Asahi Shimbun)