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Saturday, Dec. 8, 2007

Three hanged and named in ministry first

Disclosures end secrecy policy on executions


Staff writer

The Justice Ministry executed three death-row inmates Friday and, in a break with its secrecy policy, released their names and details directly to the public.

Seiha Fujima, 47, Hiroki Fukawa, 42, and Noboru Ikemoto, 74, were hanged early Friday, the ministry said. Fujima and Fukawa were executed at the Tokyo Detention House and Ikemoto at the Osaka Detention House.

The first executions authorized by Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama reduced the number of inmates on death row to 104. His predecessor, Jinen Nagase, approved 10 executions during an 11-month stint, including last Christmas Day.

The government's secrecy policy on executions has been widely criticized. Since 1998, the ministry has limited disclosure on executions to just the number hanged on grounds that anything else might cause "emotional unsteadiness" in other inmates, and be criticized as insensitive toward convicts' kin. Before that, the ministry didn't disclose any information on executions.

But in an apparent effort to dispel the criticism, the ministry Friday disclosed the inmates' names, the crimes they were convicted of and the locations where they were hanged.

"Disclosure of such information is important to explain to the public that executions are being properly carried out," a Justice Ministry statement said.

Later in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said he hopes the disclosures continue.

But death penalty opponents argued Friday's information disclosure is far from sufficient to ensure transparency.

Koichi Kikuta, a professor emeritus at Meiji University and noted death penalty opponent, slammed the government announcement, saying releasing only the names, crimes and the location of the executions would only strengthen the public image of the convicts as "vicious."

At a news conference jointly organized by lawmakers opposing capital punishment, Kikuta demanded the government also make public the physical and mental state of the death-row inmates, as well as the rationale for the timing of executions.

Fujima was convicted of murdering a 16-year-old girl, her younger sister and their mother at their house in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, in May 1982. After stalking the girl for more than six months, he stabbed the three with a kitchen knife and a pocket knife after the girl spurned him.

Fujima was also found guilty of killing an accomplice in the crime and an acquaintance from a burglary. Fujima's lawyers argued that he was insane and thus should not have been held liable for the killings, but his sentence was finalized by the Supreme Court in June 2004.

Fukawa was arrested in May 1999 and convicted of fatally stabbing a 65-year-old colleague from a newspaper delivery company and her 91-year-old mother, after the colleague refused to lend him ¥2 million. His death sentence was finalized in January 2003 after he withdrew his Supreme Court appeal.

Ikemoto fatally shotgunned a distant 46-year-old relative and his spouse at the relative's house in June 1985 after having a heated debate with the couple over litter on his property. Ikemoto then went outside and shot a 71-year-old neighbor to death and wounded a bystander.

His appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court in March 1996.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations denounced Friday's hangings in a statement released by Chairman Seigo Hirayama.

"There is always the danger of a wrongful execution," Hirayama said, calling for a moratorium on executions until the capital punishment system is reformed on the basis of open public debate.

The federation also demanded that the government ease restrictions on visits to and communication with death-row inmates. Such contact is restricted to family members and lawyers, and to an extremely limited number of occasions.

Hirayama also implied that the hangings reflect Japan's reluctance to follow an international trend toward abolishing capital punishment. Japan and the United States are the only major industrialized countries that still uphold capital punishment.

Calling executions an "ultimate violation of human rights," Amnesty International Japan also denounced Japan's practice of hanging inmates without giving them any prior notification.



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