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Exposing Japan's deadly secret

In a bid to expose its execution practice, Japan will allow journalists to visit its Tokyo chamber of death for the first time.  Richard Lloyd Parry in The Times reports that ‘executions are a mixture of the chilling and the incongruously cosy’.  

Practice of the death penalty in Japan is extraordinarily secretive. Even prisoners on death row wake up each morning not knowing if they will live to see nightfall, as they are normally given about one hour’s notice before being hanged.
The death chamber is a room of two halves apparently: one half is carpeted and ‘cosy’ where the prisoner is informed that he or she will soon be hanged, while the other half comprises a concrete floor, a noose and a trapdoor – just a heavy curtain separates the two.

Not hugely reported upon perhaps because the practice there is so secretive, Japan holds the record as having the world’s longest serving prisoner on death row.  Now 74, Hakamada Iwao has spent the last 41 years of his life not knowing if each day would be his last. That’s about 15,000 days.  

Evidently, not only is an execution a cruel and inhumane punishment, Japan’s death row practice makes it clear that the wait on death row is just as torturous. And that's true, wherever executions take place.

Other death penalty stories in the news today include Alex Hannaford’s Comment is Free piece about the potential execution of the first woman in Virginia USA for nearly 100 years.  Teresa Lewis is reported to have an IQ of about 72 putting her in the "borderline range of intellectual functioning".  Amnesty – which opposes the death penalty in all cases – is urging its members to appeal on her behalf.

And yesterday The Observer’s profile of Juliette Binoche threw the spotlight once again on Mohammidi Ashtiani’s case.  Her case is further from the headlines today but her fate is far from decided so we’re continuing to appeal for her as well.

In spite of all these rather gloomy death penalty stories, the number of countries turning their back on this awful practice is on the up.  And China has today announced that it’s curtailing the number of offences which are punishable by death.  It does beggar belief that people would have been executed for tax fraud in the first place though.  

More from us soon!

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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