The government on Friday approved granting pardons to roughly 550,000 petty criminals in light of Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony next Tuesday.
The Justice Ministry said the pardons, the first since 1993, will be granted on the premise that the emperor’s enthronement is “an opportunity for the citizens of Japan to cleanse their spirit and start anew.”
“Such decisions, however, need to be made with consideration of crime victims and their families,” a clemency official said, explaining why those who committed grievous crimes will not receive the pardons.
The official said the pardons will involve those who were found guilty and were fined for minor infractions at least three years ago.
“The pardons will help them get back into society — in the belief that the pardons will alleviate life inconveniences caused by restrictions imposed on them … and will free them of a psychological burden,” the official said.
The amnesty will take effect on Tuesday, restoring their civil rights. It will also allow those pardoned to apply for professional licenses, when ordinarily they would be subject to a statutory 5-year period of suspension. The amnesty will not restore previous licenses, such as driver’s licenses suspended due to a conviction.
About 80 percent of those to be pardoned were involved in traffic law violations or traffic accidents, including those that caused death or injury.
The official said those sentenced to prison terms or to penal servitude will be considered ineligible out of concern for the families of the victims, terming such pardons “inappropriate.” There will also be no general amnesty or commutation for those convicted.
In addition, the government will grant special individual clemency to those fined for minor infractions before Oct. 22, 2016, if they request it. These pardons will be limited to people whose sentences were suspended due to illness requiring hospitalization, or who have little chance of recovery or serving out their sentence. As of June, 142 people had sentences suspended due to illness. Those who will qualify for the special pardons are generally over 70 or require a family member for their care.
Information on the amnesties will be published in the government’s official daily gazette.
In Japan, amnesty for acknowledged crimes has long been granted on the occasion of significant national events and in cases of erroneous rulings or when penal policy has been revised.
Pardons have been issued to criminals 10 times since the modern-day Constitution was introduced in 1947.
In 1989, more than 10 million people received amnesty and had their civil rights restored to mark the death of Emperor Showa, while about 2.5 million people were pardoned in 1990 to celebrate Emperor Akihito’s enthronement.
The system was also used to commute penalties in 1973 after the Supreme Court ruled Article 200 of the Penal Code unconstitutional. The article made killing individuals in a family’s ancestral line a special crime that was an exception to ordinary homicide, and accompanied by a harsher penalty.