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Pope Declares Death Penalty Inadmissible in All Cases

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ROME — Pope Francis has declared the death penalty inadmissible in all cases because it is “an attack” on the “dignity of the person,” the Vatican announced on Thursday, in a definitive shift in Roman Catholic teaching that could put enormous pressure on lawmakers and politicians around the world.
Francis, who has spoken out against capital punishment before — including in 2015 in an address to Congress — added the change to the Catechism, the collection of beliefs for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
The revision says the church would work “with determination” for the abolition of capital punishment worldwide.
“I think this will be a big deal for the future of the death penalty in the world,” said John Thavis, a Vatican expert and author. “People who work with prisoners on death row will be thrilled, and I think this will become a banner social justice issue for the church,” he added.
Sergio D’Elia, the secretary of Hands Off Cain, an association that works to abolish capital puni…

Japan has no immediate plans to review death penalty, says minister

Execution scene from "SPEC - First Blood"
Japan does not plan to review its death penalty anytime soon, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said Friday, despite her orders this month to execute all 13 AUM Shinrikyo cult members on death row sparking international criticism.

"I think capital punishment is unavoidable for those who committed extremely grave and atrocious crimes, and the country's death penalty will not be re-examined immediately," Kamikawa told the press.

All 13 former members of the doomsday cult who had been sitting on death row were executed on 2 occasions this month on Kamikawa's orders, prompting anti-death penalty campaigners to protest the massive enforcement of capital punishment in a short period of time.

The number of executions carried out under Kamikawa has totaled 16, the highest number ordered by a single justice minister since Japan lifted its 40-month moratorium on capital punishment in 1993.

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AUM founder Shoko Asahara and 12 of his former disciples were convicted of involvement in 1 or more of the following crimes -- a 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, another sarin attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, and the murders of a lawyer, his wife and their baby son in 1989.

Following their executions, the German government's human rights commissioner called on the Japanese government to reconsider the practice of carrying out the death penalty.

"It is an inhuman and cruel form of punishment and I therefore call upon Japan, our close partner, to review its existing practice and refrain from carrying out any further executions," said Baerbel Kofler.

However, Kamikawa said whether or not Japan should abolish its death penalty is an issue "that should be cautiously studied from the perspective of achieving social justice, while fully paying attention to public opinion" on the matter.

The death penalty is strongly supported by the Japanese public. A 2014 government survey revealed 80.3 % of Japanese people aged 20 or older favored capital punishment, down from a record 85.6 % in the previous survey in 2009. Only 9.7 % said the death penalty should be abolished, up 4 points.

Amid increasing international pressure, Japan implemented a moratorium on capital punishment for three years and four months beginning in November 1989 until resuming the practice in March 1993.

According to Amnesty International, 106 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes and 142 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice at the end of 2017. 

Source: The Mainichi, July 27, 2018


End of a cult, but renewed debate on death penalty


Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara
The executions of 7 Aum Supreme Truth cult members on July 6 set a record number of such killings in 1 day since the Justice Ministry began releasing information on capital punishment in 1998.

Putting 13 prisoners to death in just 3 weeks is seen as one of the largest spates of executions since the end of World War II.

European Union member countries and other nations on Thursday released a joint statement calling for the Japanese government to adopt a moratorium on capital punishment with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

The international human rights group Amnesty International, too, criticized the moves, saying Japanese authorities should "promote an informed debate on the death penalty as first steps towards its abolition."

According to Amnesty, the number of countries and territories that have effectively abolished the death penalty has reached 142, while 56 - including Japan and the United States - maintain capital punishment.

Yet a national survey by the Cabinet Office in 2014 found 80 % of the respondents were accepting of the death penalty.

"The public support for the death penalty system has remained at a high level partly because the Aum cases had a devastating impact," said one former justice minister.

Current Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said Thursday: "Whether we should maintain or abolish the [death penalty] system is something we must decide independently with reference to the moves in other countries, while also considering public sentiment.

"To abolish the system under present conditions is not appropriate."

Chuo University Prof. Makoto Ida, a criminal law specialist, said: "Now that we have closed a chapter with the Aum cases, we should probably recognize that the time has again come to reopen civil discourse on what to do with the [death penalty] system."

Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 27, 2018


Japan should listen to world outrage over use of death penalty


Gallows Tokyo Detention Center
France was the last Western European industrial nation to retain the death penalty.

Criminal justice lawyer Robert Badinter staged a fierce activist campaign for the abolition of the death penalty, earning in the process the sobriquet "Monsieur Abolition."

In 1981, Badinter became justice minister for President Francois Mitterrand and accomplished his mission of retiring the guillotine. But his struggle against the death penalty did not receive sufficient public support.

The key driving force for the success of the crusade was the "political courage" of Mitterrand, who pledged to abolish capital punishment during his presidential campaign, Badinter once said in an interview for The Asahi Shimbun's Globe special feature supplement.

He argued that being a democracy is incompatible with the death penalty. That's because, he said, respect for human life is the basis of the philosophy of human rights and democracy is based on human rights.

The sheer number is shocking. Japan has executed all the 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult who had been sentenced to death in 2 rounds of executions this month.

The news has come as a fresh reminder of how Japan has been left far behind in the global trend concerning the issue and how the system is in flux.

The European Union, its members and some other European countries issued a joint statement on July 26 urging Japan to adopt a moratorium on the executions of criminals, saying, "The death penalty is cruel and inhuman, and fails to act as a deterrent to crime."

A total of 142 countries have either abolished the death penalty or let it fall into disuse. The number of nations and regions that retain the use of capital punishment has shriveled to 56.

"Dewanokami" is a Japanese term to ridicule people who habitually refer to examples in foreign countries in arguments, using the word "dewa," in phrases such as "Oshu dewa" (in Europe). The term dewanokami is a pun on the old phrase in the feudal era to mean "the Lord of Dewa (a province roughly comprising the current Yamagata and Akita prefectures)."

As for the issue of the death penalty, however, Japan should pay more attention to the arguments in the countries that have abolished it.

The global trend toward ending the use of capital punishment has been driven by the historical movement to shift the purpose of criminal punishment from revenge to rehabilitation.

At the heart of this movement is the question of whether a state has the right to kill people.

1 of the 13 executed former Aum Shinrikyo followers described an agonizing aspect of his life on death row.

"When I'm not told about my execution on a Friday morning, I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I will not be hanged on the weekend."

That's how he was waiting for the final day of his life.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun, Vox Populi, Vox Dei, July 2018. Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.


Japan has executed nearly as many people as the US this year because of a 1995 cult attack


Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
So far this year, Japan has executed 13 people, all of them linked to the Aum Shinrikyo cult that launched the deadly sarin nerve gas attack in Tokyo in 1995.

It's the highest number of people executed in Japan in a year since 2008, when 15 died by hanging. The US by comparison has put 14 people on death row to death so far in 2018, according to the Washington DC-based Death Penalty Information Center.

6 more former members of the Aum cult were hanged today (July 26), following the executions earlier this month of 7 others, including the cult's founder Shoko Asahara, meaning all remaining Aum death row inmates have now been put to death.

In addition to the Tokyo attacks, which killed 13 people, the cult was also responsible for another such attack in Nagano in 1994 that killed 8, and the murders of a couple and their baby in 1989. The last remaining fugitive Aum member was arrested in 2012. All trials connected to the cult were officially completed in January this year.

Amnesty International, which campaigns for the abolishment of the death penalty worldwide, said that it was extremely rare for Japan to execute more than 10 people in a year, and to carry out 2 rounds of executions in a single month. The Mainichi newspaper reported that with the current emperor due to abdicate next year, authorities wanted to put an end to the cult for good before the end of the Heisei era, which began with the death of the previous emperor in 1989.

➤ READ MORE: The Aum Shinrikyo Executions: Why Now?

"This unprecedented execution spree... does not leave Japanese society any safer. The hangings fail to address why people were drawn to a charismatic guru with dangerous ideas," said Hiroka Shoji, East Asia researcher at Amnesty.

Japan has also been criticized by bodies like the United Nations Committee against Torture for giving its inmates on death row exceptionally short notice for their execution, typically just hours before the hanging is to take place. However, a majority of people in Japan support capital punishment.

Aum Shinrikyo was founded in 1984 by Asahara. The cult's followers believed that they would attain salvation after Doomsday if they followed Asahara, who as the "enlightened one" possessed the supreme truth.

Source: qz.com, July 27, 2018


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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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