Author(s)Center for Prisoners’ rights / Pr Akaike (Univ. of Kyoto) / Mme Yasuda (Univ. of Kokugakuin)
The death penalty is currently enforced. There are 19 offences legally punishable by death. In practice, only offences involving homicide (usually multiple homicides) are subject to the death penalty.
A considerable number of inmates sentenced to death suffer mental health problems due to continuous solitary confinement, even though law allows death row prisoners to have contact with each other (Article 36, paragraph 3 of the 2007 Penal and Detention Facilities).
Executions are performed by hanging and are carried out privately. Inmates sentenced to death are usually only informed of the date and time of execution an hour before it actually takes place. This creates significant anxiety for those awaiting execution and is also damaging for family members who must suddenly face the execution of a loved one without being given the opportunity for a final visit. The government has held that this policy spares prisoners the anguish of knowing when they are going to die.
Lack of prior announcement can also deprive inmates of an opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of their execution. No pardon or reprieve has ever been granted for a death row inmate.
In December 2015, the execution of an inmate from the Tokyo Detention House marked the first execution in Japan after a lay judge trial (see Defense). His sentence was never reviewed since he did not exercise his right of appeal.
Despite repeated recommendations by the Committee Against Torture and the Human Rights Committee, the government of Japan has insisted that a mandatory appeal system is not required because most defendants exercise their right of appeal. The Japanese government refers to the popular support for the death penalty by its citizens as grounds for maintaining it.
As of June 1, 2015, there were 130 inmates sentenced to death according to the Japan Federation of Bar Association (JFBA). The JFBA, the Center for Prisoners’ Rights and many other organizations have requested the government immediately introduce a moratorium on executions and initiate a nationwide debate on the abolition of the death penalty, including disclosure of information concerning the death penalty to the general public.
Nb of death sentences
Number of executions
Deaths in detention
Each institution announces inmate deaths and (possible) causes of these deaths, but official statistics do not include a breakdown of causes.
No reliable information is available for suicides in prison.
Number of deaths
Ill-treatment and violence
There are many prisoner complaints about ill-treatment in detention, but official statistics reveal only those formally filed by inmates. The vast majority of these complaints are dismissed. There is a view that many inmates may fear further violence if they complain.
Arbitrary or secret detention
There have been no reports of the government or its agents using arbitrary or unlawful detention.