Japan – 2 Executed, Denial of Right To Exhaust Right of Appeal and/or Right To a Re-Trial


Center for Prisoners’ Rights Japan

c/o Amicus Law Office

Raffine Shinjuku #902, 1-36-5, Shinjuku Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, JAPAN

TEL / FAX +81 3-5379-5055

July 13, 2017


On Thursday July 13rd, , Japan’s Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda ordered the executions of Masakatsu Nishikawa and Koichi Sumida, at the Osaka Detention Center and Hiroshima Detention Center respectively, for the second time during his term of office since August 2016.


Sumida, sentenced to death in lay judge trial held in February 2013,had withdrawn an appeal to the High Court and made his sentence finalized the following month. This is the third execution of an inmate whose death sentence was imposed by lay judges and finalized without exhausting his right of appeal and the proclamation that the Japanese government would continue to execute its citizens regardless of the vulnerability of conviction or sentencing. Instead of keeping forcing its citizens to take the responsibility of retaining capital punishment, citing the result of opinion polls and the system of lay judge trial, the government should introduce the mandatory appeal system and commence review of the entire death penalty system.


Today’s execution reminds us urgent necessity for introduction of mandatory appeal system for death sentences. Many death sentences have been finalized without review by appellate courts for lack of the system of mandatory review. As a consequence of such a fault in the judicial system,quite a number of people who do not deserve to the most severe punishment areheld on death row. As there are various factors which are crucial for determination of ultimate punishment, there is always great risk of erroneous decision in sentencing. A recent example of this would be the decisions made by the Tokyo High Court to overturn lay judges’ decisions to impose the death penalty in three cases, which were subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court. Thus, various UN human rights bodies such as UN Human Rights Committee (2008, 2014) and The Committee Against Torture (2007, 2013) have issued recommendations time and time again, that there should be steps taken to ensure that such appeals shall become mandatory.


The execution of Nishikawa poses another serious question. He denied some of the four robbery-murder charges and was requesting to reopen his case, without assistance of counsel. The government has repeatedly said that an execution of an inmate who’s actually requesting to reopen his/her case would be justifiable, if he/she has repeatedly filed requests on similar reasons. However, it should be noted that Sakae Menda, Japan’s first exoneree from death row, spent 34 years in prison and was finally released after the sixth request of retrial. Also, today’s execution is clearly against the UN Human Rights Committee’s recommendation that requests for retrial should have a suspensive effect.



The Center for Prisoners’ Rights condemns today’s executions and will continue its struggle to achieve moratorium on executions and ultimate abolition of the death penalty.



Yuichi KAIDO






Center for Prisoners’ Rights

Japan Federation of Bar Associations adopts Declaration at AGM calling for abolition of death penalty – 7/10/2016

*  from MADPET Blog
Malaysian Bar adopted a Resolution calling for the abolition of the death penalty at its Annual General Meeting in March 2006, and now we have the Japan Federation of Bar Associations doing the same. We hope that all other Bar Associations and Lawyer Organisations especially in countries that retain the death penalty will also do the same soon.
See related post:-

2006 – Malaysian Bar adopts Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty



In historic move, Japan’s legal community takes stand against death penalty
by Alastair Wanklyn
Staff Writer
Japanese lawyers positioned themselves against the death penalty on Friday, as the Japan Federation of Bar Associations called for abolition of a punishment that critics say is uniquely cruel and vengeful.
JFBA members approved a declaration that seeks to abolish the death penalty by 2020 and to replace it with life imprisonment, a change that will bring Japan into line with most other developed nations.
The JFBA represents around 37,600 Japanese lawyers and hundreds of foreign legal professionals. In the past it has expressed unease over the death penalty but has stopped short of taking a stand against it.
Friday’s move will set the legal profession against the government, which has executed 16 people since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power in 2012.
In a joint statement, the European Union and the Norwegian, Icelandic and Swiss embassies called the JFBA’s decision “timely and welcome.”
“We hope that an open, public debate on this issue in Japan will follow, allowing the people of Japan to weigh for themselves the evidence from a growing number of countries . . . that an abolition of death penalty can actually strengthen the capacity of judicial systems to effectively deliver justice and, at the same time, prevent irreversible miscarriages of justice,” they said.
The move was welcomed by activists, who say the death penalty is error-prone and leaves prisoners with no opportunity for rehabilitation.
“Capital punishment in all cases should be abolished because the inherent dignity of the person cannot be squared with the death penalty, a form of punishment unique in its cruelty and finality,” Kanae Doi of the Tokyo branch of Human Rights Watch said Friday.
“The death penalty is widely rejected by rights-respecting democracies around the world and I see no reason why Japan cannot follow the stream. I welcome the JFBA restarting the discussion in this direction.”
EU governments have been lobbying hard for Japan to end executions. British, French and Italian diplomats press the case regularly in their meetings with lawyers, legislators and journalists.
Some European diplomats privately express frustration that abolition is not even a subject of public debate in Japan.
The French Embassy in Tokyo said Friday it hopes that discussion will now emerge.
“We have been calling on Japan to introduce a moratorium for many years,” the embassy said in a statement. “In this respect, we salute the declaration of the JFBA. The death penalty is a moral issue, but it is also necessary to question its usefulness.”
Japan is one of only two Group of Seven nations that retain the death penalty.
In the U.S., figures show the trend is slowing. Executions in the U.S. this year are on track to be the lowest in 25 years, and the trend is matched by a sharp decline in the number of death sentences passed by American courts.
Japan’s death row prisoners are usually kept in solitary confinement and are required to stay silent, conditions that critics call both inhumane and excessively punitive.
Doubts about the reliability of convictions have been fueled by cases such as that of Iwao Hakamada.

He was sentenced to death in 1968 in a case based on evidence apparently fabricated by police.

Hakamada was freed in 2014 but now lives with severe mental impairments after more than four decades on death row.
In 2015 Japan executed three prisoners. That year, the case of 89-year-old Masaru Okunishi also drew attention. He died in the hospital after 46 years on death row, fighting to clear his name in the murders of five women. He said his confessions were forced and sought a retrial on nine occasions. – The Japan Times, 7/10/2016

Japanese lawyers urge country to abolish death penalty

Japan has one of the world’s lowest murder rates, making the need for capital punishment unconvincing, the federation said.

By: AP | Tokyo | Published:October 7, 2016 9:33 pm

capital punishment, death penalty, japan capital punishment, japan death penalty, Japanese bar associations, japan law, japan news, world news


The Japan Federation of Bar Associations urged the government on Friday to introduce life imprisonment to replace execution.
  Japanese bar associations have formally adopted a policy against the death penalty for the first time, demanding the government abolish execution by 2020 when Japan hosts the Olympics and an international conference on criminal justice. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations urged the government on Friday to introduce life imprisonment to replace execution.

Japan has one of the world’s lowest murder rates, making the need for capital punishment unconvincing, the federation said. It also cited the risk of wrongful convictions and the lack of evidence that the death penalty reduces crime. Nearly 130 prisoners are on death row in Japan, according to justice officials. Crimes subject to a possible death penalty in Japan include murder and acts such as arson or sabotage that cause death, usually in the most egregious cases or involving multiple victims, as well as terrorist attacks and attempted coups.

“We should face the fact that the death penalty … is a serious and grave violation of human rights by the state,” the group said in a statement, adopted after heated debate and objection by opponents at a convention in Fukui, western Japan. The statement said the possibility of mistrials and wrongful accusations could not be denied. “Once carried out, the death penalty is irreversible and fundamentally different from other punishment.”

Four death row prisoners have been found innocent and released after being granted retrials since the 1980s, including former professional boxer Iwao Hakamada, who won release in 2014 after nearly 50 years on death row for a wrongful murder accusation. Japan and the US are the only Group of Seven members that maintain the death penalty, while 140 nations have ended the practice that opponents consider cruel.

The prospect of any change is unclear as the majority of Japanese still support the death penalty. Some lawyers favor keeping the capital punishment as a way to address the victims’ feelings. At today’s convention, a group of lawyers handed out leaflets, unsuccessfully trying to vote down the federation-wide policy. Membership in a local bar association is compulsory for Japan’s more than 37,000 lawyers, and its members include a few hundred other people, such as foreign lawyers. – The Indian Express, 7/10/2016

Japan lawyers’ group seeks end to death penalty

An execution chamber is pictured at the Tokyo Detention Center in Tokyo August 27, 2010. Japan opened up its gallows for the first time to domestic media on Friday, a move that could spark public debate over executions in a country where a hefty majority supports retaining the death penalty. Mandatory credit Kyodo/File Photo via REUTERS
By Elaine Lies | TOKYO


Japan’s biggest lawyers’ group on Friday called for the abolition of the death penalty, a controversial move in country where a large majority of the public supports executing criminals convicted of the most serious offences.

Human rights advocates have long denounced Japan’s capital punishment system, under which prisoners are told without warning they will be hanged within hours, but there has been little momentum for change.
Some 80 percent of the public and the core of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party favor capital punishment. Japan and the United States are the only two members of the Group of Seven advanced economies to practice it.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a declaration calling for the abolishment of the death penalty by 2020, citing the possibility of wrongful convictions and international trends against capital punishment. It also said there was little evidence that it deterred crime.
“There’s a serious risk of false charges under Japan’s criminal justice system, which has fatal flaws in the disclosure of evidence and long periods of detainment and interrogation,” the statement said.

The death penalty is currently used for crimes including murder, coups and arson or rape that causes death.
The move by the lawyers’ group was expected to be opposed by a politically vocal victims’ rights group, which has consistently urged that the death penalty be maintained.

“When a life is taken by crime, that life will never return,” the group said on its homepage. “For the dead person’s loved ones to want heavy punishment is only natural.”
The danger, said Shizuka Kamei, a former Cabinet member who was a police official for decades before entering politics, was that an innocent person may end up condemned.
“Depriving an innocent, defenseless person of their life is a heinous killing on the part of the nation,” Kamei, head of an anti-death penalty lawmakers group, said during a news conference on Thursday.

Proponents of the death penalty say it deters crime, but activists note that nearly 99 percent of criminal trials in Japan end with convictions and reliance on confessions is high. Suspects are not always guaranteed the presence of a lawyer.
There were 127 people on death row at several prisons around Japan at the end of 2015.
(Additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Malcolm Foster; Editing by Nick Macfie) – Reuters, 7/10/2016



Media Statement – 5/10/2016


ADPAN (The Anti Death Penalty Asia-Pacific Network)  is pleased that members of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, whose membership includes 37,000 lawyers and hundreds of other legal professionals,  will be voting for the abolition of the death penalty at their Annual General Meeting on 7/10/2016 (The Japan Times and The Guardian, 21/9/2016). We hope that this Resolution and/or Declaration will be approved with an overwhelming majority, if not unanimously.

The Malaysian Bar, whose membership now is about 17,000 practicing lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia, adopted a Resolution in March 2006 at its Annual General Meeting calling for the abolition of the death penalty, and for a moratorium on execution pending abolition. Since then, resolutions for the abolition of the death penalty have been tabled and adopted by the Malaysian Bar over the years re-affirming its membership’s commitment towards the abolition of the death penalty.

A resolution of a Bar Associations, adopted by its membership, is a very powerful statement which demonstrates clearly that it is not just the Bar, but that its members are  also  clearly for the abolition of the death penalty.

This JFBA resolution and/or declaration of members will be a strong statement to the Japanese Government, now led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has sadly executed about 16 persons since 2012. There are presently about 124 inmates on death row in Japan.

The risk of miscarriage of justice, and innocent people being executed became a major concern since 2014 after Iwao Hakamada was released having spent more than 45 years on death row. He had been  sentenced to hang in 1968 for the murders two years earlier of a company president, his wife and their two children. The presiding judge, Hiroaki Murayama, when releasing Hakamada in 2014 also had this to say, “There is a possibility that [key pieces of] evidence have been fabricated by investigative bodies.

ADPAN  calls on  the Japanese government to heed the call of JFBA and its members , and  abolish the death penalty.

ADPAN also hopes that Bar associations, civil society organisations, political parties, trade unions and groups  in Asia-Pacific nation states will also pass similar resolutions at General Meetings calling for the abolition of the death penalty.

Charles Hector

Fifa Rahman


For and on behalf of ADPAN



The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) is a regional network of organization and individual members committed to working for the abolition of the death penalty in Asia-Pacific

Website: https://adpan.org/aboutus/

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