Friday, February 9, 2007

Japan keeps hanging criminals

On Christmas 4 men were executed
Opposition to the capital punishment is weak
Jordi Juste. Kyoto
On Christmas Day, 2006, four men were hanged in Japan. There were no protest watches, international signing campaigns or petitions against the executions. Everything was made, as whenever there are executions, discreetly, without announcements. Not even to the families of the executed. Actually, news of the executions came up only once the death certificates were signed.
And they did not cause any remarkable reaction in the public opinion, beyond the usual criticism from some opposition politicians and members of groups opposed to the capital punishment. "It is Christmas, a special day even for those who are not Christian. I cannot understand why they chose to carry out the executions ", declared Nobuto Hosaka, of the Social Democratic Party.
The four executed were Hiroaki Hidaka (44), convicted for the death of four women in 1996; Michio Fukuoka (64), condemned for the murder, in 1981, of three people; Yoshiaki Akiyama (77), sentenced to die for the death, in 1975, of a businessman from whom he stole 10 million yens (60,000 dollars); and Yoshio Fujinami (75), condemned for the murder, in 1981, of two of his ex wife’s relatives.
Executions every year
The four executions take place after a parenthesis of 15 months due to the resistance of the previous minister of Justice, the Buddhist Seiken Sugiura, to sign the execution orders. Therefore, Japan keeps the pace of carrying out a minimum of an execution every year, retaken in 1993 with the end of the moratorium imposed by minister Masaharu Gotoda.
The present Justice minister, Jinen Nagase, declared, when taking possession in September, that he understood "that there are voices against the capital punishment", but he added he was inclined to pay greater attention to the feelings of the victims and "to maintain the order in the society". After the executions of Christmas, Nagase declared that he had made his decision "with great care and in agreement with the law". Japan’s jails have almost 100 interns in death row waiting for the signature of the minister, the only person authorized by the law to issue the order.
Between the inhabitants of the row are criminals as famous as Chizuo Matsumoto, known as Shoko Asahara, the leader of Aum, the sect behind the poisonings gas sarin gas in Tokyo’s subway that, in 1995, caused the death of 12 people and wounded thousands
After the executions, sources in the Ministry of Justice expressed their concerns about the overpopulation of the death row, due to the rise in the number of sentences and the greater care ministers take in choosing cases that do not generate public controversy.
Indeed, on December 27, it was known that Nagoya’s High Court denied the possibility of a retrial for Masaru Okunishi, an 80 years old man condemned in 1961 for the death, by poisoning of five women, a crime that he first confessed but later affirmed to have admitted under pressure from the police.
Excessive secrecy
People in the death row are informed of their executions the morning of the day in which they are going to be carried out, and their families receive the notification only when they are already a fact. According to the Ministry, they proceed this way to avoid the suffering of the criminals. Amnesty International has criticized repeatedly the practice as a form to avoid open debate on the capital punishment. The fact is surveys show that near 80 % of Japanese accept this form of punishment. In Japan’s culture the idea of paying with death is well rooted, and there are, periodically, cases of assassins who request to be executed.

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