Japan is “extremely isolated” from the world on the question of the death penalty, according to Jan Wetzel, a senior policy adviser at human rights and capital punishment lobby group Amnesty International.
Wetzel said 22 countries carried out capital punishment last year, or “about 10 percent of the states of the world.” He was speaking during an interview in Tokyo.
“In the global trend, countries like Japan that (maintain the) death penalty are becoming extremely isolated.”
The results of an opinion poll released by the Cabinet Office in January showed that 80 percent of Japanese want the death penalty to remain, while less than 10 percent support abolition.
Wetzel noted that Japan and the United States are the only major industrialized countries that have the death penalty.
Of the two, the United States is showing “a real move away from death penalty,” with six states having decided in recent years to abolish it, Wetzel said.
An insistence on a harsh penalty by victims’ relatives is widely seen as one factor behind Japan’s stubborn opposition to abolition.
On the other hand, many who seek the abolition of the death penalty say execution is murder. In the United States, some victims’ families have protested capital punishment, Wetzel said.
Japan should review its policy not least because of the case of Iwao Hakamada, Wetzel said.
Hakamada, a former professional boxer, was released from death row following a court decision last year to reopen his case. He was arrested in August 1966 on charges of killing four members of a family in Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and spent 48 years in detention and for most of that time lived in fear that he would be killed the following day.
Wetzel said the penal system had caused Hakamada and his family many years of psychological suffering.
“We hope that this case and others will spark wider discussion on the death penalty in Japan.”
Japan, Wetzel added, “needs to decide which side it wants to be in the future,” grouped with countries like North Korea and Iran, or to join “the majority of the world that say death penalty is outdated.”