122 lawmakers to file bill in June to suspend hangings

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A group of 122 lawmakers calling for the abolition of the death penalty said Friday they will submit a bill demanding a halt to hangings to the current Diet session in June.

“We have finally agreed on a plan that will seek to institutionalize a moratorium on executions as its top priority,” said Social Democratic Party lawmaker Nobuto Hosaka, who serves as secretary general of the nonpartisan Diet group.

In view of the group’s failures in the past, the bill would halt hangings — instead of abolishing capital punishment — in three stages.

The first would set up a temporary panel in both houses of the Diet for three years to discuss whether capital punishment should be kept.

The second would be revision of the Code of Criminal Procedure to halt executions while the Diet panels are discussing the measure, although the death penalty would be retained on the statute books.

While the period of discussions is set at three years, the moratorium on executions should be put at four years to allow time for adjustments, according to the Diet group.

The third stage would be the introduction of a sentence of life without parole. In order to give convicts an opportunity to apply for leniency, the Amnesty Law will also be revised so as to offer convicts parole after 25 years at the earliest.

Under the current Criminal Code, convicts serving life prison terms can be paroled after 10 years.

The new sentence of lifetime in prison will stand between the death penalty and the current life sentence in degree of severity.

The group, which is led by veteran Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Shizuka Kamei, has discussed alternatives to capital punishment and was initially optimistic, believing discussion of the draft bills would help abolish hanging.

Now, however, some members of the group have concluded that the immediate abolition of the death penalty will face opposition and prove difficult in reality.

The Diet group has had heated debates on appropriate alternative punishments and society’s expectations.

“Our target finally shifted from dropping capital punishment from the Criminal Code to seeking a moratorium on executions,” Hosaka said.

They also hope to trigger public debate on the issue by submitting the bill, he added.

Japan, along with the United States, are the only members of the Group of Eight nations that still carry out executions. European nations have long been urging both countries to suspend executions and eventually abolish the death penalty entirely.