Japan urged to discontinue executing mentally ill prisoners

Japan urged to discontinue executing mentally ill prisoners

[JURIST] Japan [JURIST news archive] continues to execute mentally ill prisoners [press release] despite a criminal code provision outlawing the practice, according to a report [text, PDF] released Thursday by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. According to the report, while the exact number of prisoners with mental illnesses on death row is unknown, the Japanese government continuously executes prisoners with mental illnesses and leaves others on death row for years. The report also states that poor prison conditions and the many years spent on death row are contributing to prisoners developing mental illnesses while awaiting execution. AI Health Coordinator and lead author of the report James Welsh said:

To allow a prisoner to live for prolonged periods under the daily threat of imminent death is cruel, inhuman and degrading. Amnesty International's studies around the world have shown that those suffering mental health problems are at particular risk of ending up on death row.

Mental disorders can give rise to crimes, impair the ability of a defendant to participate in an effective legal defence, and are likely to play a significant role in the decision of prisoners to terminate appeals. In Japan, condemned inmates are also at risk of developing a serious mental illness while on death row.

AI concluded the report with a series of recommendations including establishing a death penalty moratorium with a view toward abolishing the death penalty completely.

One of the last developed nations to still use the death penalty, Japan has endured international criticism for the practice since it ended an unofficial moratorium [JURIST reports] on capital punishment in 1993. In November 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee urged Japan to take steps to abolish the death penalty [JURIST report]. AI issued a statement urging Japan to stop executions [text] after the hanging of four men in April 2008. In February 2008, a group of parliamentarians proposed a four-year moratorium on the practice [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.