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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Capital punishment in Japan: Unscheduled executions and hangings witnessed only by prison officials and a priest

The execution scene from "SPEC - First Blood", by TBS Television
Japan and the United States are the only two members of the Group of Seven advanced economies that have the death penalty.

Japanese death row inmates are executed by hanging. Three prison officers simultaneously press buttons to open the trap door so it is not clear which one is responsible.

Between 2012-2016, 24 people were executed, according to the most recent Justice Ministry data.

Unlike in the United States where execution dates are set in advance and made public, inmates in Japan are notified on the morning of their execution, usually about an hour before. 

The U.N. Committee against Torture has criticized Japan for “the psychological strain” on inmates and their families.

Only prison officials and a priest are present.

Hangings are announced after the inmate is taken to the gallows. Since 2007 the ministry has released the names and crimes of those executed.

The seven Aum Shinrikyo members executed Friday at several facilities around the country may have been the largest number executed at any one time, said Akiko Takada of the anti-death penalty group Forum 90. A Justice Ministry official could not immediately confirm the claim.

Those sentenced to death can appeal up to the Supreme Court. The multiple Aum-related trials lasted more than 20 years.

Convicted inmates can seek a retrial even after a Supreme Court ruling, but this does not guarantee a stay of execution. Several of those executed Friday may have had requests for retrials pending, Amnesty International said.

The law says an execution must take place within six months of the sentence being finalized by the courts, but in practice it usually takes several years. The justice minister decides the timing.

The government, urged by the United Nations Human Rights Council to abolish the death penalty, said in 2008 it could not because public opinion favored it for “extremely vicious crimes.”

A 2014 government survey found that 80.3 percent of people supported the death penalty. That compares with 54 percent in the United States.

Anti-death penalty activists say a lack of information and increased interest in victims’ rights are partly behind the support.

In 2010, then-Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, who opposed the death penalty, signed off on two executions and opened an execution chamber to media for the first time, hoping to stimulate debate.

In 2016, a lawyers’ group called for the abolition of the death penalty by 2020, citing the possibility of wrongful convictions and international trends against capital punishment.

Source: Reuters, July 6, 2018

Japan death row executions: hangings secretive, backed by public


The gallows, as seen from the witness gallery, Tokyo Detention Center.
TOKYO, July 6 (Reuters) - Japan on Friday executed the leader and six members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult that carried out a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, killing 13 people.

Japan is one of only two members of the Group of Seven advanced democracies to execute criminals. The United States is the other.

EXECUTION BY HANGING


Japanese death row inmates are executed by hanging. Three prison officers simultaneously press buttons to open the trap door so it is not clear which one is responsible.

Between 2012-2016, 24 people were executed, according to the most recent justice ministry data.

Unlike in the United States where execution dates are set in advance and made public, inmates in Japan are notified on the morning of their execution, usually about an hour before. 

The U.N. Committee against Torture has criticized Japan for “the psychological strain” on inmates and their families.

Only prison officials and a priest are present.

Hangings are announced afterwards. Since 2007 the justice ministry has released the names and crimes of those executed.

The seven executed on Friday at several facilities around Japan was the largest number executed at one time since 1998, when the justice ministry started releasing information on executions, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa told a news conference.

APPEALS


Those sentenced to death can appeal up to the Supreme Court. The multiple AUM-related trials lasted more than 20 years.

Convicted inmates can seek a retrial even after a Supreme Court ruling, but this does not guarantee a stay of execution. Several of those executed on Friday may have had requests for retrials pending, Amnesty International said.

The law says an execution must take place within six months of the sentence being finalised by the courts, but in practice it usually takes several years. The justice minister decides the timing.

PUBLIC SUPPORT


A 2015 government survey found that 80.3 percent of people supported the death penalty. That compares with 54 percent in the United States.

“I believe imposing a death penalty on those whose crimes are extremely grave and atrocious is inevitable,” Kamimawa, the justice minister, said on Friday.

Anti-death penalty activists say a lack of information and increased interest in victims’ rights are partly behind the support.

In 2010, then-justice minister Keiko Chiba, who opposed the death penalty, signed off on two executions and opened an execution chamber to media for the first time, hoping to stimulate debate.

In 2016, a lawyers’ group called for the abolition of the death penalty by 2020, citing the possibility of wrongful convictions and international trends against capital punishment.

Source: Reuters, Linda Sieg and Elaine Lies, July 6, 2018

Japan: Executions of seven Aum cult members fails to deliver justice


The executions in Japan of seven members of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo (Aum) on Friday, including the group’s “guru”, Chizuo Matsumoto, does not deliver justice, Amnesty International said.

"Justice demands accountability but also respect for everyone’s human rights. The death penalty can never deliver this as it is the ultimate denial of human rights." -- Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

The executions are the first among the 13 people convicted and sentenced to death for their roles in the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway and other illegal activities. The subway attack killed 13 people and left thousands more suffering the effects of the nerve gas.  

“Today’s executions are unprecedented in recent memory for Japan. The attacks carried out by Aum were despicable and those responsible deserve to be punished. However, the death penalty is never the answer,” said Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.   

Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
The seven people executed in the early hours of Friday morning were: Chizuo Matsumoto, Tomomasa Nakagawa, Tomomitsu Niimi, Kiyohide Hayakawa, Yoshihiro Inoue, Seiichi Endo and Masami Tsuchiya. The executions were carried out at detention centres across Japan. Some of those hanged may have had requests for a retrial pending.

In March, Japan again rejected recommendations to reform the country’s death penalty system. The recommendations were put forward by other states as part of a formal review of Japan’s human rights record at the United Nations.

“Instead of repeating the claim that executions are unavoidable because the public demands it, the Japanese government needs to step up and show leadership on human rights,” said Hiroka Shoji.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender or the method used by the state to carry out the execution and has been campaigning for abolition of the death penalty for over 40 years.


Source: Amnesty International, July 6, 2018

EU urges Japan to abolish death penalty


European flag
The European Union and its member states have criticized Japan for the executions of the former leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult and 6 of his former disciples.

The Delegation of the European Union to Japan and ambassadors of European nations issued a joint statement on Friday.

The statement says that the diplomats recognize this is a particularly painful and unique case for Japan and its citizens.

It also says that they convey their heartfelt sympathy, share the suffering of the victims and their families, and absolutely condemn terrorist attacks, whoever the perpetrators and for whatever reason.

However, the document says the death penalty is cruel and inhuman, and fails to act as a deterrent to crime.

It says that errors are inevitable in any legal system and are irreversible, calling on the Japanese government to adopt a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing them.

Source: nhk.or.jp, July 6, 2018

➤ Related content: Japan's death chambers: Inside the secretive world where prisoners are executed with brutal efficiency


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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