Japan’s death penalty effectively scrapped with arrival of Keiko Chiba
Richard Lloyd Parry
Capital punishment has been unofficially scrapped in Japan with the
appointment of a left-wing justice minister who is an outspoken opponent of
the country’s controversial system of secret executions.
Keiko Chiba, 61, a lawyer and former member of the Japan Socialist Party, has
the final say in signing execution orders for the country’s 102 death-row
inmates. Although she has declined to say explicitly whether or not she will
authorise them, her 20-year record as an active death penalty abolitionist
means that hangings will be put on hold after surging in the past three
“A moratorium is important, but also important is a public debate, and she has
called for that too,” said Makoto Teranaka, executive director of Amnesty
Japan is the only industrialised democracy, apart from the United States, to
maintain capital punishment. Campaigners opposed to the death penalty also
say that it is carried out in a manner designed to avoid public scrutiny.
Once final appeals have been exhausted, death-row inmates can meet only their
lawyers and immediate family members. Hangings are usually carried out
during parliamentary holidays to prevent the subject from being raised in
parliament. The condemned prisoner is told of his imminent execution only a
few hours before it is carried out. His family are informed afterwards, when
they are invited to collect his remains.
published by Amnesty International last week presented evidence that the
stress of not knowing which day would be their last was driving some
condemned Japanese prisoners insane, but they were being executed anyway, in
violation of international law.
“Japan’s death-row system is driving prisoners into the depths of mental
illness but they are still being taken and hanged at only hours’ notice in
an utterly cruel fashion,” Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International
Between 1989 and 1993, and 2005 and 2006, there were no executions in Japan
because the incumbent justice ministers refused to sign the necessary
Last year, however, the number of executions reached 15, the highest in 33
One of the problems is that, in Japan, a life sentence means 30 years and
courts are not permitted to impose it without the possibility of parole.
Some activists believe that only if the law is changed — so that life can
mean life — will public opinion tolerate the formal abolition of capital