LONDON – Human rights group Amnesty International criticized Japan on Thursday for its continued used of the death penalty and the “secrecy” surrounding the execution process.
At the launch of Amnesty’s annual release of death penalty statistics, spokeswoman Chiara Sangiorgio said Japan must give proper notice to death row inmates before the executions take place.
“They wonder every day if this will be their last. International standards require families, lawyers and the prisoners to be informed prior to the execution,” she said.
Sangiorgio also called on Tokyo to hold a parliamentary debate on the abolition of the death penalty, as promised by Keiko Chiba, a justice minister in a previous government led by the Democratic Party of Japan.
“We have seen the new government (under the Liberal Democratic Party) only executing and not trying to promote different views on the death penalty,” she said.
“With the introduction of the lay jury system in Japan, we have seen that people are more concerned about the lack of information on the death penalty. At some point, they may be asked to become part of the death penalty machinery.”
Amnesty reports that in 2013 there were eight executions in Japan. A total of 130 people were under sentence of death at the end of the year.
It also states that capital punishment in Japan was used in contravention of international standards on the use of the death penalty. Amnesty says two of those executed, Kaoru Kobayashi and Keiki Kano, were preparing to apply for appeals and another, Tokuhisa Kumagai, was over 70.
The report notes that the U.N. Committee Against Torture was worried about the fact that death row prisoners are held in solitary confinement and given limited access to legal assistance.
Japan resumed the use of the death penalty in March 2012 after a 20-month gap in executions.
Japan defends the retention of the death penalty, arguing that public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of the policy. However, campaigners say the public surveys are flawed and exaggerate the real level of support.
Elsewhere, Amnesty reported China executed “thousands” of prisoners in 2013 but was unable to come up with a precise figure due to government secrecy.
The human rights organization called on Beijing to publish figures in order to prove claims that the use of the death penalty is declining.
However, it welcomed new legal protections for death row prisoners and the ending of taking organs from executed prisoners.
Excluding China, at least 778 executions were known to have been carried out in 2013, up from 682 in 2012, Amnesty said.
Iran was second with 369, while Iraq executed 169, up nearly 15 percent on the previous year.
People were executed in 22 countries in 2013, one more than in the previous year.
Methods of execution included beheading, electrocution, firing squad, hanging and lethal injection.
People faced the death penalty for a range of nonlethal crimes including robbery, drug-related and economic offenses. They were also put to death for adultery, blasphemy and expressing political dissent.