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Amnesty International Report 1996 - Japan

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 January 1996
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1996 - Japan, 1 January 1996, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Six people were executed, including a 70-year-old man. Over 90 others, including at least nine people sentenced to death during 1995, remained imprisoned under sentence of death in conditions which amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. They included four men who had been awaiting execution for over 20 years and some who may have been convicted unfairly. Detainees continued to be held in conditions which gave inadequate protection against ill-treatment. Asylum-seekers continued to be at risk of being sent back to countries where they faced human rights violations.

The three-party coalition of Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi entered its second year of office, facing a new nine-party opposition coalition, Shinshinto, New Frontier Party, which had been established in December 1994.

A resolution adopted by the Diet (parliament) in June expressed "deep remorse" to the victims of Japanese aggression during the Second World War and in August the Prime Minister made a public apology. The victims included up to 200,000 women, known as "comfort women", mostly from Korea and several other countries in East and Southeast Asia, who had been forced into prostitution by the Japanese armed forces. The government was criticized for its decision to set up a private fund for the "comfort women" instead of paying individual compensation to the victims.

Six people were executed in secret, three in June and three in December. They included Tanaka Shigeho, aged 70, who had been under sentence of death for 17 years. They had been convicted of murder and appeared to have been selected for execution in an arbitrary manner from more than 50 prisoners whose death sentences had been confirmed by the Supreme Court. In line with government policy, the names of those executed were not made public and the prisoners' families and lawyers were not informed of the executions.

Over 90 prisoners convicted of murder, including at least nine people sentenced to death during the year by courts of first instance, remained under sentence of death. They included over 50 people whose sentences had been confirmed by the Supreme Court. At least four of these prisoners had been under sentence of death for over 20 years and two were over the age of 70. They included 77-year-old Tomiyama Tsuneyoshi who had been under sentence of death for 28 years. His long-standing application for a retrial, based on his claim that he was convicted unfairly, remained unanswered by the end of the year.

In June the Supreme Court ruled that a defendant's mental condition rendered him unfit to waive his right of appeal against the death sentence imposed on him by the Yokohama District Court in 1988. The Supreme Court ruling stated that Seiha Fujima was suffering from a mental disorder, due to the death sentence imposed on him and the stress of long-term detention.

Some prisoners under sentence of death alleged that they were ill-treated after their arrest and many had not seen a lawyer until after they were charged. They included Oda Nobuo, under sentence of death for 26 years, whose fifth application for a retrial was rejected in March. He had claimed that he was forced to make a confession to charges of murder during police interrogation and that he was tried unfairly. The court was reported to have found insufficient evidence to order a new trial.

Conditions of detention for prisoners under sentence of death amounted, in some cases, to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Some prisoners were only permitted to meet close relatives and, in some cases, adopted relatives were denied access to prisoners. Strict rules governing daily life included a stipulation that prisoners under sentence of death must sit or kneel in the same position throughout the day and may not walk, sleep or talk freely.

At least 16 members of the religious sect Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) were charged with offences carrying the death penalty, including a gas attack on the Tokyo Underground in March in which 11 people were killed. Over 200 Aum Shinrikyo members were arrested in connection with the attack, some 100 of whom were released without charge. Some alleged that they had been ill-treated during police interrogation.

Police facilities known as "substitute prisons" (daiyo kangoku) continued to be used instead of detention centres to hold criminal suspects for up to 23 days before indictment in conditions which provided inadequate protection against torture and ill-treatment. Interrogators in "substitute prisons" had unlimited access to suspects for up to 23 days and could deny them access to the outside world.

In July a police officer was given a suspended prison sentence for beating a suspect in November 1985 at Sonezaki Police Station, Osaka. In June Osaka District Court ordered the Osaka Prefectural Government to pay compensation to five people who had been ill-treated during police questioning in 1979, leading to their convictions on charges of rape and murder. All five had been acquitted between 1986 and 1989.

In March the Tokyo District Court rejected the appeal by a Chinese pro-democracy activist, Zhao Nan, against the authorities' refusal to grant him refugee status. His application had been rejected in March 1991 because he had failed to apply for asylum within 60 days of his arrival in Japan. The authorities had apparently rejected his application without considering the substance of his claim, in violation of international standards on the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers. In December Fawaz Housein El Hanafy, a Palestinian, was granted refugee status. His original application had been turned down in 1992. He was the first person to appeal successfully against a refusal by the authorities to grant refugee status to an asylum-seeker.

In March Amnesty International published a report, Japan: The death penalty – a cruel, inhuman and arbitrary punishment, describing the use of the death penalty and the harsh conditions of detention for prisoners awaiting executions. The report called on the government to com-mute all death sentences, to take steps to abolish the death penalty in law and to end the ill-treatment of prisoners under sentence of death. The government did not respond to Amnesty International's recommendations.

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