[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Sep 28 22:14:58 CDT 2005
Legal battle over secret executions to start Friday
A legal battle to break the secrecy surrounding executions in Japan is set
to start Friday at the Tokyo District Court.
Osaka lawyer Tomoyoshi Emura will argue in the 1st hearing of his lawsuit
that it was unacceptable for the Justice Ministry to reject his request to
disclose the execution chamber layout at the Osaka detention center.
Hearings of 2 other lawsuits will also start at the district court soon,
with lawyers seeking disclosure of government documents including
execution orders and execution reports. The plaintiffs say they expect the
3 suits to be examined together eventually.
Japan maintains a highly secretive policy when it comes to carrying out
Death row inmates are only told they face the gallows on the morning of
the day of their execution and family members are notified after the fact.
For the public, the government only discloses the number of executed
inmates but not their identities.
The government also refuses to show execution facilities not only to the
public but also to lawyers and the press, although it allowed a group of
lawmakers in July 2003 to inspect the facility at the Tokyo detention
center. It was the 1st time in some 30 years that a gallows was opened to
The plaintiffs and lawyers involved in the cases said their legal action,
the first of its kind in Japan, will be a breakthrough for transparency.
"We need to know how executions are carried out, their line of commands,
and also, how death row inmates are treated in their isolated cells," they
"Without such information, we cannot discuss whether to abolish capital
punishment, and we cannot guarantee due process, including the inmates'
rights to raise objections to execution, for those who face the gallows."
The lawyers requested the Justice Ministry between November 2003 and
February 2004 to release to them the execution chamber layout as well as
other administrative documents on several executions, based on the
information disclosure law. The ministry declined to disclose almost all
the requested information, leading them to file the suits.
On the layout, the ministry said disclosure "may lead to escapes and
damage public security and order," while on execution orders and execution
reports it said they include personal information that cannot be disclosed
under the law, according to the plaintiffs.
Emura noted in the complaint, "The execution chamber layout will provide
the public with a clue about how executions are carried out."
On the government's stance that disclosing execution reports would
undermine inmates' mental stability as they contain executed inmates' last
wills and how their bodies are dealt with afterwards, the lawyers said
such concerns are groundless.
"How can death row inmates read such documents when the government
strictly restricts their communications with the outside world?" Kei
Shinya, a Tokyo lawyer and plaintiff, said.
He said he was surprised to learn that the correction department in the
U.S. state of North Carolina carries the names and photos of death row
inmates as well as their execution schedules on its website.
"We can also know who orders executions on the website," Shinya said. "We
cannot know in Japan who has responsibility for an execution, as the
documents whose disclosure we seek are almost blacked out. It is a quite
different practice from that in the United States."
The lawyers' efforts to seek disclosure of the information have not been
They have learned of the existence of a document that shows a justice
minister had rescinded an execution order.
Under the Criminal Procedure Act, an execution should be carried out
within 5 days after the justice minister issues an order. Shinya said, "I
now wonder if execution orders are issued following full examinations, as
the document suggests an order was issued and retracted in a
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations adopted a resolution at its
annual human rights meeting in October last year urging the government to
suspend executions until it drastically improves problems surrounding the
death penalty and discloses more information about them.
Japan and the United States are among 76 countries that maintained capital
punishment as of December last year, while there is no death penalty in
(source: Kyodo News)
Concerns Grow Over Executions in China----Thousands are put to death every
year, often after brief trials that are closed to the public.
A few months ago, a state-run newspaper reported that someone else had
confessed to the rape and murder for which her son had been executed. For
years, few had listened as she insisted that Nie Shubin, 20, had been
tortured into a false confession, then convicted after a 2-hour trial. The
only evidence of any note, she says, was the account of a witness who saw
someone near the crime scene riding a blue bicycle. Nie owned a blue
"If his bicycle were red, or black, he'd be alive today," Zhang said.
Cases such as Nie's have cast a harsh spotlight on China's widespread, and
often questionable, use of the death penalty. Now, amid pressure from
lawyers, academics, the United Nations and many countries, the government
is undertaking a reevaluation.
On Tuesday, government media reported that the Supreme People's Court
would regain the authority it lost in 1983 to oversee capital cases. The
change in the early 1980s was driven by a desire for speedy justice.
According to the China Youth Daily, the nation's highest court is adding
three criminal trial courts to handle death penalty review cases in a
"truly neutral" fashion.
Legal scholars estimate that this change could reduce executions by 30%.
The current system has seen provincial judges order up the death penalty
at a fast and furious pace.
Comprehensive death penalty statistics remain a state secret, although
local jurisdictions will announce executions when that serves a political
purpose. Human rights groups, however, say China executes more people than
the rest of the world's governments combined.
Amnesty International found evidence of 3,400 death sentences carried out
in 2004 but says the real number may be closer to 10,000 a year. This
compares with 59 in the U.S. in 2004. More than 70 countries use the death
penalty, but most apply it only in the case of a few extremely violent
crimes. China executes people for 68 offenses, many nonviolent, including
smuggling, tax evasion, corruption, "endangering national security" and
separatism, which includes advocating Tibetan or Taiwanese independence.
The state-run press has called for a "kill fewer, kill carefully"
approach, perhaps as early as next year. More broadly, the Communist Party
hopes a credible legal system will help channel public frustration through
the courts rather than into public demonstrations.
Nie's 2-hour trial, followed a few months later by his execution, was not
unusual. Reports suggest some capital trials last less than an hour. Lu
Shile, accused of murder in the northeastern city of Qingdao, was
convicted late last year, had his appeal denied and was executed within 24
days, an outcome the Qingdao Evening News praised as "rapid and highly
In theory, cases not involving state secrets, minors or privacy are open
to the public. In practice, judges generally close their courts to outside
As in many other countries, prosecutors and police bring cases before a
judge. But critics say evidence-gathering, sentencing and legal procedures
are often wobbly. There are no juries, police have enormous latitude, and
forensics or other independent experts are rarely used. Whether a suspect
lives or dies can depend on timing, location and the political winds.
Neighboring provinces sometimes hand down dramatically different sentences
for the same crime.
"If you put political stress on an already shaky system and just go for
results, the risk of abrogation of justice and disproportionate sentencing
is significantly higher," said Nicholas Becquelin, Hong Kong-based
research director for Human Rights in China.
Chinese executioners tend to be particularly busy before major Communist
Party meetings, the U.N.-declared anti-drug day, crime crackdowns and
year-end holidays, with the state press touting executions as conducive to
a "safe, joyful and happy new year."
The system is heavily stacked against defendants.
Connections, not legal expertise, often determine who becomes a judge, and
corruption is a constant concern. In addition, appeals are rarely
successful because they are heard by the same court that issued the
On paper, suspects are innocent until proven guilty. In practice, legal
scholars say, the government is generally assumed to be correct. Chinese
law lacks manslaughter or first-, second- and 3rd-degree gradations for
murder, so the death penalty often is the only option.
Legal aid is virtually nonexistent. Even those able to afford lawyers
aren't allowed to meet with them until after the police interrogation,
which can last weeks or even months, with guards often listening in.
Lawyers also say defending their client too effectively subjects them to
arrest, harassment and disbarment under Article 306, a statute barring
evidence tampering that the state has employed against attorneys.
"Lawyers can be accused of doing their job," said Nicola Macbean,
executive director of the Rights Practice, a London-based development
The system also places emphasis on confessions, with torture a constant
threat, human rights groups say.
China announced recently that several hundred police officers had been
reprimanded for "improper methods," a first admission of the scale of the
problem. "The fact that people are executed every day under a system so
recognizably flawed is unbelievable," said Ben Carrdus, a researcher with
In a recent reform, China introduced a national law exam for judges and
imposed a 12-hour limit on police interrogation, down from 36 hours. And
in April, the top appeals court in the southwestern province of Sichuan
issued what it billed as the 1st ruling in China barring confessions
obtained through torture.
China's 1979 criminal statutes, which stipulated that executions be
carried out with a bullet to the head, were amended in 1996 to include
lethal injection. In the late 1990s, China pioneered the use of mobile
lethal-injection vans. Reports suggest their use is particularly common
during anti-drug campaigns in the southern province of Yunnan.
Reports persist of public executions, although much less frequently than
in the past. Last year, students as young as 6 joined 2,500 spectators in
a gymnasium in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province in central China,
to watch the execution of six men, according to a Chinese Internet report.
China spends $87 per execution, including transportation, cremation,
bullets and death notices, according to a 2003 report on the
government-run Xinhuanet website. The condemned have ranged in age from 18
The treatment of people's bodies after their execution is also an issue.
Human rights groups have long accused China of using organs without
consent from the families of those executed.
In 2000, the mother of convicted murderer Yu Yonggang sued the government
in Shanxi province, claiming the court and local medical authorities stole
her son's organs after his execution. Another case in Gansu province that
year resulted in the award of $250 to a family for a similar theft,
according to the Lanzhou Morning Post.
Pro-reform Chinese legal scholars have appealed to the nation's
pocketbook, arguing that many countries balk at extraditing corrupt
officials given the possibility of a death sentence. The Commerce Ministry
estimates that 4,000 corrupt officials have fled with $50 billion in
stolen funds since the early 1980s.
State-controlled media have also started publicizing more embarrassing
cases. In June, newspapers reported that a farmer in the central province
of Hubei who, after 10 days of nonstop interrogation, confessed to killing
his wife, had to be released when she showed up alive.
Beijing has made it clear that death penalty limits would only go so far.
Corruption, bribery and national security violations would remain capital
offenses, a senior official said.
Further delay increases the chance of more wrongful executions, legal
scholars say, and more of the sort of pain that Nie's family has suffered.
As a child, Nie was shy, kind and nonconfrontational, friends and family
One day he kicked over a water bucket, his mother recalls. When she
accused him of doing it intentionally, he took his punishment stoically
before she realized it had been an accident.
"He was almost too gentle for this world," Zhang said.
After high school, Nie got a job as a welder at a nearby factory. One day
in September 1994, police showed up at work and arrested him. He was
accused of raping and murdering Kang Juhua, 38, a neighboring villager
whose badly decomposed body was found in a cornfield.
Nie's family was not allowed to visit him in prison or talk to him after
his arrest. Nie reportedly told his lawyer that he was interrogated and
beaten by police for six days. His mother says when she caught a glimpse
of him being dragged into the courthouse, one arm was twisted at an
unnatural angle. Local, municipal and provincial police said they didn't
recall the case.
The family learned of his execution in early 1995 only after a prison
guard told them to stop wasting their time bringing soap and toothbrushes
because their son was dead already. A newspaper account at the time said:
"After a weeklong investigation in which the police applied smart,
psychological techniques, officers finally got the accused to admit the
"How can you call these 'smart techniques'?" his mother, Zhang, asks.
The incident tore the family apart. Zhang's husband attempted suicide with
sleeping pills and, after recovering, suffered a mental breakdown.
"There's no justice in China," Nie Xuesheng said, alternately shouting and
whimpering. "My son can't just die like this. This system is corrupt."
Word of their son's presumed innocence came early this year when a migrant
worker, Wang Shujin, confessed to raping six women, four of whom he said
he killed, including Kang, according to the state-run Henan Business News.
Wang's case is still working its way through the courts, although legal
experts say it's almost certain he will receive the death penalty.
Nie's family, meanwhile, is caught in legal limbo. The court says an
execution certificate is required to reopen the case, but the family says
it never received one, nor was it required at the time.
"I feel so powerless," Zhang says. "I had a beautiful, happy family, a
good husband, everything seemed so perfect. Then our whole world came
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Indonesia cops: we don't need AFP help
Indonesian authorities say they won't need Australian police officers to
testify in court to get the Bali Nine before a firing squad.
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock today withdrew cooperation in the case,
saying it was standing Australian policy not to assist in foreign death
Indonesian police arrested the nine in Bali in April after a tip-off from
the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
Bali drug squad chief Colonel Bambang Sugiarto said testimony from AFP
officers would not be required in court.
"No problem ... their statements are not important according to the law,"
Indonesian prosecutors yesterday handed over case files to the Denpasar
District Court, clearing the way for seven trials to begin next month.
The files contain evidence gathered by AFP agents against the 8 men and 1
woman who all face drug charges that carry the death penalty.
But Mr Ruddock said: "we will not provide cooperation in relation to
criminal matters unless there is an assurance that a death penalty will
not be sought."
"If there was further information that had to be obtained from here
through the Australian Federal Police, we would seek an assurance that
Indonesia would not be wanting a death penalty in each of those cases," he
told reporters in Hobart.
In Perth, Justice Minister Chris Ellison later confirmed that any request
for assistance from Indonesia would have to be made under the 2 countries'
Mutual Assistance Treaty, and require the death penalty to be taken off
"Wherever an Australian faces the death penalty, we pull out all stops to
make a plea on their behalf for that not to be carried out," Senator
Sugiarto's assessment was backed by the prosecutor Ni Putu Indriati who
will act in defendant Renae Lawrence's case.
"In the document there are no AFP as witnesses, only a letter from the AFP
explaining there were Australians who wanted to export narcotics," she
She said the withholding of Australian assistance won't affect the case.
4 of the 9 Australians, detained at Bali's Ngurah Rai Airport in April
allegedly with blocks of heroin weighing between 1.3kg and 2.9kg strapped
to their bodies, will each be tried separately.
The 4 are Wollongong man Martin Stephens, 29, Brisbane duo Michael Czugaj
and Scott Rush, both 19, and 27-year-old Newcastle woman Renae Lawrence.
The so-called gang enforcer Andrew Chan, 21, of Sydney, will be tried
individually, as will the accused mastermind of the gang, Myuran
Sukumaran, 24, also from Sydney.
3 others - Brisbane man Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen, 27, and Sydney pair Si Yi
Chen, 20, and Matthew James Norman, 18, - who were arrested with Sukumaran
at the Melasti Hotel in Kuta will be tried together.
The hotel raid, launched with the help of Australian Federal Police,
allegedly netted 300g of heroin divided between 2 small bags.
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