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Friday, Sept. 10, 2010

Justice panel hears out experts on death penalty


Staff writer

Four experts brought in Thursday to the Justice Ministry expressed their opinions on the death penalty to a study group of high-ranking officials discussing the future of capital punishment.

The ministry decided to let the media observe the study group's third meeting to let the public know the panel is considering various opinions, spokeswoman Yuriko Tsubaki said.

The first and second meetings in August were attended by ministry executives only.

Tsubaki said the ministry has not set any specific deadline for compiling the study group's conclusions.

Meiji University honorary professor Koichi Kikuta began his argument by expressing opposition to Justice Minister Keiko Chiba's July move to have two inmates hanged.

"It doesn't make sense for a Japan that renounces war to kill people (by execution)," Kikuta said.

Akira Michigami, vice chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, also opposes capital punishment.

The JFBA's position is that a law should be passed to suspend hangings until the public discusses fully whether to keep or abolish the death penalty, Michigami said.

He said abolishing capital punishment is the global trend. In 2009, 139 countries either had abolished or had suspended executions for many years, while 58 still had the death penalty on their books, he said, citing Amnesty International for his figures.

Michigami also brought up wrongful convictions, which he called an undeniable possibility.

It is necessary to discuss creation of a substitute punishment, such as life in prison without parole, he said.

On public surveys showing more than 80 percent of Japanese favor keeping the death penalty, he said countries that have effectively abolished capital punishment also had high percentages of people who favored it, and thus more emphasis should be placed on the decision of the political leadership than opinion poll results.

According to material prepared by the JFBA, 66 percent of South Koreans were in favor of capital punishment in 1999 and that nation has not had an execution since 1997.

The Philippines had 80 percent support and has not executed anybody since 2000.

Meanwhile, Isao Okamura, a lawyer and secretary general of an association of crime victims, called for the government to keep the death penalty.

Okamura cited a case in which a man who murdered his wife got life imprisonment, was released on parole, and went on to kill again.

"Those opposing the death penalty say killing a murderer does not bring the victim back to life. I would say, 'Because a victim doesn't come back to life, you (the murderer) have to give up your life,' " he said.



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