Recent Developments in Death Penalty Debates in Japan

Since I last posted about the country’s death penalty debates, there have been some developments.

(1) The process of the issuance of death warrants (for the 12 people who were executed since 2009) was revealed for the first time in history. The Ministry of Justice disclosed related documents including the Order of Execution. It became clear that the Minister of Justice (who orders the execution) does not sign the Order him/ herself. Even the official seal of the Minister is done by a staff member. The Minister’s sign appears on another document named “Conclusion of Review of Death Penalty Case (Suitable for Execution)“. How the candidates for the next executions are chosen remained unclear.

The issuance, review, approval and order documents were all on the same date and the actual execution was carried 2 to 4 days thereafter. The process is extremely fast.

(2) New Minister of Justice, Minoru Taki was appointed on June 4th. He is a member of a group of supporters for Iwao Hakamada, a death row inmate. He told the media that now that he is the Minister, he  may withdraw from the membership. In addition, he told the media that he will consider executing death row inmates, since that is his job as the Minister.

(3) Ministry’s top three officials have been discussing (closed from the public) about the method of execution. On June 6th, they decided that they will consider the lethal injection method, currently employed in the United States. They are to conduct a research on why the U.S. decided to employ the lethal injection method in the 1970s.

(4) Meanwhile, the opponents to death penalty are raising their voices. Read an excellent report by the Japan Times on an International Symposium which was held in Tokyo on June 1st here (in English).


……With international pressure growing against Japan to scrap the system, abolitionists, scholars, lawmakers and law enforcement officers from Japan, Norway and the U.S. recently gathered in Tokyo to spread their message that capital punishment neither prevents crime nor comforts the victimized.

……At the international symposium June 1 organized by Aoyama Gakuin University, the panelists, including ex-justice ministers from Japan and Norway, reviewed and compared the judicial and social responses to violent crimes in their countries.

Both have low crime rates and both have suffered indiscriminate terrorism. Japan in March 1995 saw the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by Aum Shinrikyo that left 13 people dead and thousands injured. Norway last July suffered its worst crime spree since World War II when Anders Behring Breivik detonated a bomb within Regjeringskvartalet, the executive government quarter, and two hours later went on rampage at a youth camp, killing 77 people in total.

Even though these crimes were both brutal, the panelists said each nation’s public and judicial systems reacted to and handled them in almost completely opposite fashions…….

Former Japanese justice ministers who participated in the discussion expressed concern how the society has yet to engage in serious debate on the matter.

“Capital punishment contradicts the notion by the government that citizens must not kill anybody,” said lawyer Seiken Sugiura, a former Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker who did not sign off on any executions during his time as justice minister in the Junichiro Koizumi administration, saying it went against his religious beliefs.

“But I am worried that Japan is going to be the last country to abolish it,” said Sugiura, who came under fire by critics who said he should not have accepted the Cabinet position if he didn’t intend to fulfill his responsibility of signing death warrants.

Some panelists pointed out that part of the reason behind the lack of discussion in Japan is a lack of information and understanding about capital punishment itself. The government is notorious for withholding information on executions as officials believe too much disclosure would lead to more scrutiny of the system, and therefore more criticism and less public support to keep it going, they said.

“We need an extensive debate on this issue, but there is little information available,” said Hideo Hiraoka, a Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker who served as justice minister under Yoshihiko Noda and also did not send death-row inmates to the gallows. “Japanese people have no way to know what kind of condition Asahara is in. They do not know the global trend of abolishing capital punishment.”

David Johnson, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who is currently researching Japan’s capital punishment system, cited a lack of leadership.

“It is a failure of leadership and failure to consider publicly,” he said. “Japanese have to think about what capital punishment does to them rather than what it does for them.”……

3 responses to “Recent Developments in Death Penalty Debates in Japan

  1. Pingback: Two Executions in Japan…… | Wrongful Convictions Blog

  2. Pingback: Murder of One Gets Death Sentence | Wrongful Convictions Blog

  3. Pingback: Three Executions in Japan Today (Feb. 21, 2013) | Wrongful Convictions Blog

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