Covering events from January - December 2004

Two men were executed in 2004 in secret by hanging. At least 61 prisoners remained on death row. Refugee recognition procedures failed to meet international standards. The issue of reparations for forced sexual slavery during World War II remained unresolved.


Peru continued to seek the extradition of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, wanted in Peru for masterminding "death squad" massacres in Peru between 1991 and 1992. Alberto Fujimori, in exile in Japan since 2000, is considered a Japanese citizen because of his Japanese parentage, and therefore not subject to extradition. Interpol issued a worldwide notice for Alberto Fujimori's arrest in March 2003. In response to a second formal extradition request from Peru in February 2004, the Japanese government asked for further information.

In June, Japan stated that it would link future aid to Viet Nam with improvements in human rights. Japan halted new aid to Myanmar in 2003, and resumed only limited aid in 2004.

Japan was involved in bilateral and multilateral talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. Bilateral talks were held with North Korea to settle the issue of the alleged abduction of several hundred Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. In August the Japanese government announced that it would give North Korea food aid as well as medical aid and in November, four Japanese government officials went to North Korea to monitor its distribution.

Death penalty

Japan executed two death row inmates in September. Both executions – by hanging – were carried out in secret. The prisoners were informed only a few hours before the execution and their families and lawyers were told after the executions had taken place. The executions were carried out while parliament was in recess in an attempt to avoid public debate or criticism.

  • Mamoru Takuma, who murdered eight schoolchildren in Osaka in 2001, was executed with unusual speed, less than a year after his death sentence had been finalized. He was reported to have a history of mental illness.

Death row inmates were kept in solitary confinement and communication with the outside world was very restricted. At least 25 prisoners whose sentences have been finalized have spent more than 10 years on death row awaiting execution. Ten per cent of death row inmates were reportedly victims of miscarriages of justice.

  • In August the Tokyo High Court rejected a request for retrial by Hakamada Iwao, who had spent over 38 years in detention and always protested his innocence.

Refugees and migrants

The crackdown on illegal immigrants was strengthened after the government announced its security policy at the end of 2003. Businesses reportedly employing undocumented migrants were raided. The government also manipulated fear of "terrorism" to facilitate the forcible repatriation of thousands of foreign workers.

This crackdown was followed by an amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law which raised the maximum fine for undocumented migrants and extended the maximum re-entry ban on deported foreigners from 5 to 10 years.

The new law scrapped the requirement that refugees apply for refugee status within 60 days of arrival. However, concerns regarding the detention of asylum-seekers remained. Mentally ill asylum-seekers continued to be detained without appropriate medical care and reports of suicide attempts continued. Some asylum-seekers were detained and thereby separated from their children. Several people were detained for years and were suddenly forcibly repatriated while their appeals were still pending. In 2004, of 426 people who applied for refugee status, only 15 were granted asylum.

  • In February, the Tokyo District Court upheld the decision to reject refugee status for a gay Iranian man known as Shayda, despite numerous reports of homosexuals being executed in Iran. Shayda was recognized as a refugee by the UN refugee agency UNHCR in 2001. The Tokyo Court acknowledged that under Iran's Islamic penal law, those accused of same-sex acts face punishment, including the death penalty. However, the Court stated that Shayda could live in Iran safely as long as he did not "overtly" engage in such activities and that a person could find ways to avoid persecution. Shayda's application for refugee status was rejected in 2000, and he was then detained for 19 months for overstaying his visa.
  • In November, a Vietnamese woman was forcibly repatriated to Viet Nam even though her husband (a refugee) and baby remained in Japan.

In August Japanese officials, assisted by the Turkish police, visited Turkey to investigate the families of those seeking asylum in Japan. Such investigations exposed asylum-seekers and their families to increased danger as information regarding individual applications was given to Turkish authorities.

Violence against women

The issue of reparations for former "comfort women" – women forced into sexual slavery during World War II – remained unresolved. In February, Tokyo's High Court rejected compensation claims by seven Taiwanese former "comfort women". The women claimed that they were victims of systematic sexual abuse by the Japanese Imperial Army and suffered discrimination after the war. They had demanded compensation and an official apology from the Japanese government. There were originally nine plaintiffs, but two died during the case.

In May Japan enacted a law against domestic violence providing protection not only to spouses but also to former spouses and children. The law allowed courts to order perpetrators from their homes and to stay away from spouses, former spouses and children.

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