LONDON – Amnesty International on Thursday accused Japan’s government of flouting international norms by executing in 2017 death row inmates who were seeking retrials.
The human rights organization noted that for the first time since 1999 Japan executed people whose appeals for retrial were pending before the courts. This was the case in three of the four executions in the country last year.
Speaking at the release of the group’s annual death penalty report, Chiara Sangiorgio, Amnesty International’s adviser on the death penalty, said, “What was noticeable last year was that the government breached some of its own practices as we saw people who were applying for a retrial being executed.
“We also saw someone executed in December even though he qualified under Japanese law as a minor at the time of the crime,” Sangiorgio said. “It feels as if things are not improving and we see a sort of cruelty in which the death penalty is being used with the government going back on some of its own practices.”
Amnesty claims these actions represent a breach of protections recognized under Japanese and international laws and signal a “departure from the practice observed for 20 years.”
Sangiorgio also expressed concern about the fate of the 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, who are on death row for carrying out the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13 people and left over 6,000 people ill.
Death sentences have been finalized for the cult members, with some of those convicted reported to be seeking retrials.
“We believe the death penalty does not deter crime and these executions will do little to improve security in the country,” the Amnesty adviser said.
“We think that if the cult members are applying for a retrial, then the grounds for doing so must be considered given previous cases of unsound convictions,” she said, adding that the group is “also concerned about several death row prisoners who are displaying symptoms of mental and intellectual disability.”
Amnesty recorded four executions in Japan in 2017 and three death sentences issued. By the end of the year, 123 people had their death sentences finalized by the courts.
The organization expressed “concern” that the 2017 figures represented a small increase on the numbers recorded for each of the years between 2014 and 2016.
While capital punishment in the country has drawn international criticism, a majority of the public supports it. A 2014 government survey showed that 80.3 percent of people aged 20 or older favored capital punishment, down from a record 85.6 percent in the previous survey in 2009.
Amnesty International recorded at least 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017, down by 4 percent from 2016. The most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan. China remains the world’s top executioner but the data is classified as a state secret. Amnesty estimates that “thousands” are executed in China.