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Japan to review use of capital punishment

Japanese Justice Minister Keiko Chiba [Japan Times profile] on Wednesday announced a review of Japan's death penalty [JURIST news archive] and the opening of execution chambers to the media. The announcement came after Chiba witnessed the execution [Japan Times report] of two convicts at the Tokyo Detention House. The review will examine the issue of capital punishment from all angles, according to Chiba, and will include members of the Justice Ministry [official website, in Japanese] in addition to experts who will be asked to participate. Critics have claimed Chiba, who opposes the death penalty, had political motivations in ordering the executions after losing her seat in elections earlier this month. Despite this, Chiba will remain justice minister until September. Responding to the announcement, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] criticized Japanese use of the death penalty [press release], stating:

Japan continues to go against the international trend toward abolition and mete out this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. A day that should have marked one year without executions has instead seen Japan return to carrying out state-sponsored killings. ... A working group to discuss the death penalty is not enough. There needs to be an open and public debate and an immediate moratorium on executions while the discussion takes place.
In September, AI called on Japan to suspend use of the death penalty [JURIST report] and ultimately abandon the practice due to the execution of mentally ill inmates and poor prison conditions. A February study conducted by the government found that capital punishment enjoys support from 85 percent [AFP report] of the Japanese public. 107 inmates are currently on death row in the country.

In recent years, Japan has experienced a sharp upswing in both violent crime [BBC report] and the perceived risk of violent crime [Japan Focus study], factors used as justification for increasing the use of capital punishment. In January 2009, the Justice Ministry announced that four death row inmates were executed [JURIST report], despite international pressure to end the practice. In 2008, the ministry carried out the execution of 15 prisoners, including three inmates in June [JURIST report], as well as an additional two in October. AI issued a statement urging Japan to stop executions [press release] after the hanging of four men in April 2009. In February 2009, a group of parliamentarians proposed a four-year moratorium on the practice [JURIST report]. In November 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee urged Japan to take steps to abolish the death penalty [JURIST report]. In August 2007, Japan's national bar association called for a moratorium on the death penalty [JURIST report] until new safeguards are enacted to prevent wrongful executions.

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