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December 20 2010 | JAPAN


Huge rally against death penalty: 1,800 people gathered in Tokyo to celebrate 20th birthday of Forum 90

printable version - AP

LEAD: 1,800 gather for anti-death penalty rally in Tokyo

TOKYO, Dec. 19- (Kyodo)

More than 1,800 people called for the abolition of the death penalty at a rally in Tokyo on Sunday, at a time when ordinary citizens are involved in sentencing under the lay judge trial system.

In the keynote speech, Yo Hemmi, an award-winning writer, said, "Are we able to tolerate binding the neck of a person with rope and hanging him or her? Are we able to pass on such a scene to our children?"

"I'm going to continue seeking its abolition as I cannot tolerate it and it makes our hearts destructive," said Hemmi, a former Kyodo News reporter. "I hope Dec. 19, 2010, will become the starting point for the suspension of executions forever. I don't want to see them anymore."

The rally marked the 20th anniversary of the foundation of Forum 90, Japan's major anti-death penalty group, which has actively campaigned for abolition by visiting the constituencies of newly appointed justice ministers, who are authorized to order executions, to press them not to issue such orders and has released statements of protest when inmates are hanged.

Since the introduction of the lay judge trial system last year, death sentences have been given in three murder cases, including one sentence imposed on a minor accused of killing two women in Miyagi Prefecture.

Osamu Kobayashi, a lawyer who heads a Japan Federation of Bar Associations panel working for the suspension of executions, told the rally, "Ordinary people have to face up to the death penalty now whether they like it or not, but the details of punishments, including capital punishment, have not been fully disclosed."

"I will work to build a consensus in the JFBA so that we aim to achieve a society that does not need the death penalty," he said.

Among the speakers at the rally was Toshikazu Sugaya, who was acquitted in a retrial earlier this year over a high-profile 1990 murder case in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, after spending more than 17 years in prison.

"There must be more people who are falsely accused as I was," he said. "When I think about such people, I have to say capital punishment must be abolished."

Another speaker was Chinatsu Nakayama, a writer who won a House of Councillors seat in 1980 by making the abolition of capital punishment a campaign promise. She served one term.

"Execution as well as war is murder under the name of justice and I believe a murder should not be justified as an act of righteousness," she said. "I have worked for the abolition of the death penalty for 30 years, but it still exists. It's quite regrettable."

After the first death sentence under the lay judge system was handed down last month at the Yokohama District Court, Tokyo-based lawyer Yoshihiro Yasuda said at another occasion, "I'm deeply concerned that passing the death penalty would be considered a lofty mission if it is handed down successively by lay judges," according to a newsletter issued by Forum 90.

"Moreover, it would accelerate executions as a justice minister would follow the decision of lay judges on the grounds that they reached it after much agonizing," the leader of the anti-death penalty campaigners was quoted as saying in the newsletter.

According to Amnesty International Japan, 139 countries, or more than two-thirds, had abolished the death penalty in law or in practice as of the end of last year. In 2009, 18 countries, including Japan, carried out executions.

This year, Japan hanged two death row inmates in July on the instruction of then Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, a former member of the Japan Parliamentary League against the Death Penalty.

Japan has been urged to consider abolition of the death penalty, regardless of domestic public opinion supporting it, with the Geneva- based Human Rights Committee saying in 2008, "Regardless of opinion polls, the state party (Japan) should favorably consider abolishing the death penalty and inform the public, as necessary, about the desirability of abolition."

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