Japan continued hangings in 2013 despite criticism by the West

December 30, 2013


Despite increasing criticism by Western nations, the government led by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party executed eight death-row inmates in 2013 in the face of little domestic opposition.

Overall, capital punishment was carried out at a pace of several hangings every few months.

Executions were carried out in February, April, September and December. In addition, three death-row inmates died of illness during the year.

While there were 133 inmates on death row whose sentences had been finalized as of the end of last year, the number stood at 130 as of Dec. 26.

Despite the foreign criticism, there has been little in the way of domestic debate about doing away with the death penalty. That has been due to the fact that the 2012 Lower House election, which swept the LDP back into power, also saw the defeat of several lawmakers who were key death penalty opponents.

In the near future, the first hangings could be carried out in cases where death sentences were handed down by courts that included lay judges. The lay judge system was introduced in May 2009 to include citizen judges, selected by lottery, who serve alongside professional judges in serious criminal cases that could result in an unlimited prison term or death sentence.

European nations have been especially critical of Japan's capital punishment system, calling it the largest human rights problem in Japan.

Not only have those nations organized symposiums in Japan calling for a review of the system, but in October, ambassadors of the European Union as well as individual nations jointly released a statement calling for a suspension of the hangings.

While a multipartisan league of lawmakers had sought to submit legislation calling for an end to capital punishment and the creation of a life imprisonment sentence, key members went down to defeat in the 2012 Lower House election and the Upper House election held in the summer.

The lack of change in the legal system means that death sentences handed down by courts that included citizen judges could be carried out as early as next year.

This year alone, five individuals were sentenced to hang in such cases. A total of 20 inmates have been given death sentences by courts with lay judges. Of those, four individuals have had their sentences finalized.

A number of high-ranking Justice Ministry officials said there could be cases in which death row inmates whose sentences were finalized recently could be executed before others who have been on death row longer.

(This article was written by Takaaki Nishiyama and Tsuyoshi Tamura.)

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  • Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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