Japan: British MP to raise issue of country's 'macabre' death penalty record

* Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael will meet sister of man on death row for 41 years
* Death row prisoners ‘turned into ghosts’ - Amnesty

The Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael is set to raise Japan’s growing use of the death penalty with the country’s justice officials later this week, as part of an Amnesty International-backed trip to the country.

Mr Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, is also set to meet the sister of Hakamada Iwao, a former professional boxer who has been on death row in Japan for 41 years. There are serious doubts about the fairness of Hakamada’s original 1968 trial and, after 28 years in solitary confinement, Mr Hakamada is now suffering from mental illness.

Alistair Carmichael said:

“For many years I was active in the campaign for justice for Kenny Richey, who spent 20 years on death row before finally returning home to Scotland last year.

“In my view the Hakamada Iwao case falls into the same category, the main difference being that he has spent an inhuman 41 years on death row.

“I feel as strongly about this case as I did about Kenny Richey’s: the death penalty is an outrage and Japan’s own version of it is not only deeply dehumanising but frankly macabre. I’m here to put this case - politely, but firmly - to Japan’s officials.”

In 2004 Mr Carmichael, a prominent campaigner against the death penalty, visited the Scottish man Kenny Richey when he was on death row in Ohio, USA. Along with Amnesty and other campaigners, Carmichael succeeded in persuading the UK government to intervene in Richey’s case. Following a long legal battle the Scotsman was eventually released from death row after his conviction was overturned on appeal.

During his trip to Japan Alistair Carmichael will also meet one of the judges in Hakamada’s original trial - Kumamoto Norimichi. Mr Kumamoto recently broke a four-decade silence about the case, making a powerful declaration before the United Nations about what he sees as the manifest injustice of Hakamada’s conviction.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Japan’s use of the death penalty is a hidden scandal. Death row prisoners are effectively turned into ghosts - banned from talking to other prisoners and forbidden from watching television or engaging in meaningful activities.

“Perhaps most shockingly of all, Japanese prisoners are often denied information about their own executions until the last moment. The first they may know of their impending death is when guards come to collect them from their cells in the morning.

“Japan should impose an immediate moratorium on all further executions as a matter of urgency.”

New figures published by Amnesty International this week show that Japan’s current rate of executions is at its highest since 1975. In 2008 the country put to death 15 prisoners and sentenced to death another 27. This, said Amnesty, was the tenth highest number of any country in the world last year - behind only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, USA, Pakistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan and North Korea.

Alistair Carmichael added:

“Like the USA, Japan is a highly developed country that should have abolished the death penalty years ago.”

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