[Deathpenalty] death penalty news------worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Oct 26 01:31:40 CDT 2007
Japan minister seeks 'peaceful' executions
Japans justice minister, who has outraged humans rights groups by
proposing systematic executions, today called for a "more peaceful" method
of killing death row inmates than hanging.
Japan, the only major industrial nation other than the United States to
practise the death penalty, executes inmates at prison gallows under its
1907 penal code.
"I fully understand what is prescribed in the penal code, but frankly I
feel that there must be some more peaceful method," said Justice Minister
Kunio Hatoyama, who did not propose any alternatives.
"There should be room for consideration," he added as he answered a
question in parliamentary debate.
Hatoyama, the 59-year-old grandson of a former prime minister, came under
fire a month ago when he suggested death row inmates should be hanged
"automatically" without the usually required approval of the sitting
justice minister, saying it placed an emotional burden on that official.
Instead, Hatoyama said he wanted Japan to implement a little-enforced law
that requires the execution of inmates within 6 months of their final
Speaking shortly before he was re-appointed to his job when Yasuo Fukuda
became prime minister in September, Hatoyama said capital punishment was
necessary because "we have been seeing extremely violent, vicious crimes
in recent years."
"It plays a significant role in deterring serious crimes," he said then.
Hatoyama, whose remarks about the systematic executions sparked protests
from some 50 rights and legal groups, has not signed off on any executions
since he took office in August in a cabinet reshuffle by then premier,
Japan has executed 10 people since it resumed executions last year after
conservative Abe took office.
Up to then, Japan did not have executions for 15 months as the previous
justice minister, Seiken Sugiura, said the death penalty was contrary to
his Buddhist beliefs.
(source: Agence France Presse)
Q & A: "Confessions Are Not Always True"----Interview with Sakae Menda,
exonerated death row inmate
Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven industrialised nations
other than the United States to retain capital punishment. And unlike
capital punishment in the U.S., Japan's use of the death penalty is on the
According to Amnesty International, 102 people are waiting to be hanged in
one of Japan's 7 execution chambers, the largest number in over half a
Thus far, 4 prisoners have been released from death row in Japan after
being proven innocent.
Sakae Menda was the 1st.
In 1948, at the age of 23, Menda was convicted of a double axe murder. The
conviction was based on Menda's confession, extracted after he was held
for 3 weeks in a police station with little sleep, water or food, and no
access to a lawyer.
In 1983, the court finally acknowledged that the police had concealed
Menda's alibi and he was released.
IPS Correspondent Mithre J. Sandrasagra spoke with Menda, now 81, at the
U.N., ahead of a General Assembly vote on a death penalty moratorium
expected in November.
IPS: Confessions carry enormous weight in prosecutions in Japan, and a
reported 99 % of people charged with crimes in Japan are convicted. What
do you think of this system?
SM: We must change the system. We value confessions too much in Japan. We
must value evidence more because confessions in Japan are sometimes things
that judicial authorities make up. Confessions are not always true.
IPS: The police coerced your confession out of you. Could you speak about
SM: They ask leading questions over and over. I couldn't eat at all, they
refused water. This led to the confession.
IPS: Did they have any evidence against you?
SM: There was no evidence at all against me.
IPS: Can you describe the process you had to navigate to get a retrial?
SM: There is no guarantee of a lawyer in Japan. I appealed for retrial on
my own many times. I was rejected several times. The 3rd time, I hired a
lawyer. I had to pay so much. Even this failed.
IPS: Japanese Justice Ministry officials claim that the system of secret
executions is the most humane form of capital punishment. Japanese
officials keep state executions out of public view and shrouded in
secrecy. Not even the condemned prisoners know the day they will die. Can
you describe the mentality of the prisoners on Japan's death row?
SM: My fellow inmates knew that their lives would end there, so they gave
up. Many of them became religious. If they must execute, it would be much
better for them to let prisoners know in advance so that they can prepare
IPS: Were you allowed access to psychiatric professionals?
SM: Psychologists were not present. That is not something big in Japan.
IPS: The bodies of many executed prisoners go unclaimed in Japan because
families disassociate themselves from the accused. What became of your
relationship with your family?
SM: I was disowned by my father. I didn't have much contact with any of my
family while I was in prison. There is a big difference among death row
prisoners, between those whose families come and take care of them and
those that do not come at all. It makes a difference to how they get
treated by the officers in the prison. The officers treat those that are
abandoned by their families like they are abandoned by society.
IPS: The Japanese government awarded you compensation for your wrongful
sentencing and incarceration. Has this helped you? Thus far, how have you
found the process of reintegrating into society?
SM: It is not a nationally recognised compensation. I just get money for
the time I spent in prison. As for reintegration, it is the society that
is very cold. Society refuses to accept me. They look at me as an axe
murderer and ex-death row inmate. It is very difficult to reenter society.
IPS: Polls indicate that many people in Japan support the death penalty.
Is there a strong grassroots campaign against the death penalty?
SM: There are movements against the death penalty. They are not very
public and not very big. Amnesty International's work in Japan is the
probably the biggest movement. I have been part of this movement for over
IPS: Are there any inklings of change from within the government to change
SM: Yes. But very, very little.
(source: IPS News)
Activists Outmanoeuvred - But Undeterred
Anti-death penalty activists in Zimbabwe are keeping up their campaign,
despite a police clampdown on their meetings and ever-lengthening food
queues, power cuts and the relentless rise in prices of many essential
"It is now very difficult to obtain police clearance to hold gatherings.
Everything we try to do to bring people together is viewed by the police
as a political event," John Chinamurungu, Amnesty International's
chairperson in Zimbabwe, told IPS. "It's very difficult to get campaigns
Amnesty and the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and the
Rehabilitation of Offenders (Zacro) have been co-operating closely to
rally public support for the abolition of the death penalty and to get the
issue on the national political agenda.
Zacro's new engagement follows an opinion article by an official of the
organisation in the state-owned daily, 'The Herald', last January. This
announced the opening of a carefully-scripted Zacro campaign, details of
which were later outlined to IPS by Edson Chiota, the organisation's
The plan included carrying the message of abolition to Zimbabwe's 13
million citizens with the printing and distribution of millions of posters
But campaigning has been hit by the speed and scale of the unfolding
economic crisis. In January the year-on-year official inflation rate was
1,600 percent. In September it reached 7,982.1 percent, according to the
government's Central Statistical Office. Unofficially, the rate is said to
be approaching 25,000 percent.
Paper and fuel, essential for a nationwide campaign, are almost impossible
The struggle to exist from day to day is now uppermost on people's minds.
In the capital, Harare, hour-long queues for bread are normal. Earlier
this month, the agriculture ministry announced that the wheat harvest was
2/3 of what was required. Shortly afterwards, the official price of bread
was increased by 300 %.
"There are millions in Zimbabwe who need food assistance," Richard Lee of
the United Nations World Food Programme, said in August. It was estimated
then that some 3.3 million would require the agency's help to survive over
the coming months.
Authorities have responded to any street protest or show of dissent by
rushing in riot police, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
But despite the unfolding catastrophe, Amnesty and Zacro have refused to
be cowed into calling off their sensitisation workshops on the death
Amnesty's local vice-chairperson, Francis Mweene, has been a notable
participant, having survived death row. He was sentenced to death in
white-ruled Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before it gained independence
"It was a big surprise to me that I found myself able to live again It was
because Amnesty Zimbabwe stood for my right to life," he told IPS,
recalling how the organisation's international contacts helped pull him
back from the jaws of death.
"It is through testimonies that I think people can be sensitised and
understand why we are advocating against (the) death (sentence)."
Mweene's leading of the testimonies clearly makes it difficult for the
authorities to step in and ban such meetings. Zimbabwe's president, Robert
Mugabe, led a liberation war against the Ian Smith regime and would
certainly have ended up on death row like Mweene had he been captured.
Alongside these meetings, Amnesty has been issuing T-Shirts emblazoned
with anti-death penalty slogans.
In July, Zacro tried to persuade traditional leaders in the Council of
Chiefs to support its anti-death penalty campaign. The chiefs were holding
their annual meeting in Harare and the northern resort of Victoria Falls.
But politicians were clearly not willing to see this happen. They stepped
in to prevent the death penalty issue being tabled at the meeting,
according to sources.
"We hoped to start with the chiefs and use them as leverage to get this
issue into the House of Assembly and eventually seek out an audience with
the head of state," Chakanyuka told IPS.
The chiefs could have raised the issue in parliament, where they sit by
Zacro's focus on the chiefs fitted into the initial thrust of the
campaign, which argued that the death penalty was "alien and contrary to
traditional African concepts of justice and beliefs".
The meeting also showed that opinion among the officially-supported chiefs
was divided on the death penalty issue.
"You should be given a sentence in accordance with your crime. If you
deliberately kill, you should also be killed," Chief Makoni told the
meeting, according to a press report at the time in the privately-owned
It has been suggested that the chiefs might have been less than
enthusiastic about being associated with such a controversial issue and
bringing it before Mugabe, for fear of losing their privileges. They are
essentially on the government payroll.
"With the elections coming there is no chance we will be able to talk to
the chiefs again until afterwards," a disappointed Chakanyuka said.
The polls -- presidential, parliamentary and local government -- are
expected to be held in 6 months.
Zacro is now planning to circulate a nation-wide petition calling for
abolition of the death penalty.
"We want to present a petition to President Mugabe since he is the man who
has been vested with all the powers to decide if one should be sent to the
gallows or not," Chakanyuka said.
Mugabe has resisted all calls for the repeal of the death penalty, which
dates back to the colonial era, in his 27 years of rule -- and is unlikely
to change his mind now, in the twilight of his beleaguered regime.
But by campaigning on this issue now and associating the retention of
capital punishment more closely with his name, it may be hoped that one of
the first measures to be adopted by his successors will be the abolition
of the death penalty.
Zacro is also hoping that its campaign will stimulate public interest in
further penal reforms.
The last execution in Zimbabwe was carried out in 2004. Since 1999 seven
people have been executed by hanging, according to Zacro.
(source: Inter Press Service)
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