Today, 29th March 2012 three men were hanged at prisons in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Fukuoka. As is usual in Japanese death penalty practice, the men were hanged without notice to their relatives or lawyers. 2011 had passed without executions, the first time in 19 years that executions had not taken place. There are suggestions that the executions have been offered to appease a public who massively support the death penalty, to distract criticism of a controversial consumption tax rise. Is human life so cheap in Japan that it can be sacrificed for political objectives?
A week ago we met with senior diplomats of the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok to hear an account of the commutation of sentence of a Japanese prisoner sentenced to death in Thailand. There were reports of flagrant human rights abuse in the passing of sentence and we were pleased to learn of Japanese concern relating to the case. Why are the same concerns not active in respect for the norms of humane procedure in Japan itself? And why does the concern for the value of human life not extend to outright rejection of capital punishment in a country where education and cultural humanism are the most advanced in Asia?