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British envoy shows concerns over Japan's death penalty


The British Ambassador to Japan expressed concern Wednesday about the country's continued use of the death penalty and encouraged the Japanese public, including lawmakers, to promote debate on capital punishment.

"The death penalty hurts human dignity, it cannot be proved to have deterrent power against serious crimes and it brings about an irreversible outcome in case of misjudgments," Tim Hitchens said at a Tokyo symposium on capital punishment. "We cannot have a perfect judicial system."

While more than two-thirds of countries in the world have abolished the death penalty, a Japanese government survey shows more than 80 percent of Japanese people support it.

"It is, needless to say, people in Japan themselves who make the final decision (on the death penalty)," Hitchens told around 100 audiences, speaking in Japanese. "I think the decision should be made, based on sufficient information."

In Japan, details surrounding the capital punishment system are veiled in secrecy. Death row inmates are hanged without prior notice, with the public, including the inmates' families and their lawyers, only informed of the executions afterward.

There have been no executions in Britain since 1964, Hitchens said. The British government, for its part, "decided to abolish the death penalty and worked for leading its people" to accept it, he said. "It is a duty of a government."

The symposium was hosted by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, and some parliamentarians were among the audience.

Another speaker of the symposium was Tatsuya Ota, a law professor at Keio University.

Ota said it remains unknown how the government decides the order on who is hanged first and who is next.

The average detention period of executed inmates through their deaths from when the punishment on them was finalized was five years and seven months for those hanged between 2003 and 2012. But as of Aug. 27, 2012, 31, or around a quarter, of death row inmates had been detained for more than 10 years. Of whom, 4 were under the custody for more than 30 years, according to him.

While it is assumed the timing of an execution is decided on several factors, such as physical and mental state of an inmate, if he or she seeks a retrial or amnesty or if there is a possibility of false accusation, "it still remains in a black box," Ota said.

The JFBA has called for the government to immediately launch a public debate on abolishing the death penalty by disclosing more information surrounding the capital punishment system and suspending executions while discussions are ongoing.