Friday, December 26, 2008

"Japanese homicides fall, but hangings rise

"TOKYO — Japan is executing criminals at its fastest pace in more than three decades, defying international condemnation and bucking a trend away from the death penalty across Asia.

"The increase comes as homicides actually are on the decline — the lowest since World War II, according to Japan's National Police Agency. But the public, fed a steady diet of lurid crime news by the Japanese news media, is more fearful than ever.

""The number of killings is declining," says Ryosuke Matsuura, who leads Amnesty International's campaign against the death penalty in Japan. "But the public believes Japan is getting more dangerous."

"Tatsuya Mori, author of the book Shikei (Execution) on the death penalty in Japan, says, "People's fear is getting stronger."

"He says ordinary Japanese are bewildered and frightened by senseless crimes, such as the sarin gas attack by the Aum Shinrikyo cult that killed 12 commuters in the Tokyo subway in 1995.

"Japan and the United States are the only nations in the Group of Eight large, wealthy countries that still impose the death penalty. Japan hanged 15 convicts this year, up from nine in 2007 and the most since 17 were executed in 1975. In the U.S., 37 have been executed so far this year, down from 42 last year.

"Other Asian countries have been abolishing, reconsidering or reducing executions. The Philippines banned the death penalty in 2006. Singapore, which once had the world's highest executions per capita, killed two prisoners in 2007, down from a peak of 76 in 1994. And Pakistan's government this year proposed granting everyone on death row a life sentence.

"The United Nations Human Rights Council in October urged Japan to abolish the death penalty, joining similar pleas from the European Union and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.

"But the Japanese government hasn't buckled to outside pressure.

""In 2006, a large EU delegation toured Japan, promoting abolition," says Michael Fox, director of the Japan Death Penalty Information Center. "The Japanese Ministry of Justice responded by hanging four people on (that) Christmas Day."

"The ministry executed two men this past October, days before the U.N. was due to issue its report criticizing Japan's use of the death penalty.

"In April, Japan for the first time executed a prisoner for murders committed as a teenager.

"Last year, a 75-year-old Japanese man went to the gallows for a murder he committed 22 years earlier, prompting then-U.N. high commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour to protest: "It is difficult to see what legitimate purpose is served by carrying out such executions of the elderly. … I would urge Japan to refrain from such action."

"In 2005 and 2006, the gallows went unused during Seiken Sugiura's 15-month term as justice minister. Sugiara said his Buddhist faith prohibited him from imposing the death penalty.

"Executions resumed under his successors. One of them, Kunio Hatoyama, was dubbed the "Grim Reaper" by the liberal Asahi newspaper for authorizing the execution of 13 prisoners in seven months.

"The Japanese public stands firmly behind the executions: A 2005 government survey found that support for the death penalty had surpassed 80% for the first time, up from less than 57% in 1975, according to The Japan Times newspaper.

"Still, homicides have been dropping in Japan since 2004 and hit a low of 1,134 last year. By contrast, there were 3,081 murders in 1954.

"Mori, the author, argues that ordinary Japanese might have second thoughts about executions if they knew more about them. State killings are shrouded in secrecy. Until last year, the government didn't even announce the names of those put to death.

""The government hides it, and people don't want to know about it," Mori says.

"Critics say Japan's death row is particularly inhumane. The condemned are isolated from other prisoners. "Once the appeals process is complete, a death row prisoner in Japan may wait for years or even decades before execution," Amnesty International reports.

"And in an attempt to prevent death row suicides, prisoners aren't told they are going to be executed until hours before they are led to the gallows. Their families find out only after the hanging."

By Paul Wiseman and Naoko Nishiwaki (USA Today, 12/23/2008), Link to article (last visited 12/26/2008)

"Stalker judge Yoshiharu Shimoyama fired

"Judge Yoshiharu Shimoyama has been impeached following his conviction under the Anti-Stalking Law for repeatedly e-mailing to a woman.

"The Diet's Judges Impeachment Court stripped 55-year-old Shimoyama, a judge at the Utsunomiya District Court, of his legal license on Wednesday. He is the first judge to be impeached in Japan since a Tokyo High Court judge was dismissed seven years ago after being convicted under the Law for Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the sixth in history.

"House of Councillors member Iwao Matsuda, who presided over the trial, said Shimoyama "has no conscience or dignity as a judge."

""It was outrageous that he sent e-mails to the victim while knowing that his actions constituted a crime. He betrayed the public's trust in him," Presiding Judge Matsuda added.

"The court added that the incident came as a shock to the public and badly damaged the public's trust in the judicial authorities at a crucial time, as Japan prepares to introduce the lay judge system.

"The impeachment court then concluded that his actions fall under immoral conduct that badly damages his dignity as a judge, for which judges can be sacked under the Law for Impeachment of Judges.

"Shimoyama was sentenced in an earlier criminal trial to six months in prison, suspended for two years, for sending a subordinate in her 20s anonymous e-mails, including some of a sexual nature, on 16 occasions between February and March this year. He pleaded guilty to the charges.

"Under Article 78 of the Constitution, judges cannot be dismissed except by public impeachment unless judicially declared mentally or physically incompetent to perform official duties. They can be impeached only if two-thirds or more of the 14 judges in the Diet's Judges Impeachment Court agree on the decision. The Judges Impeachment Court comprises seven members of the House of Representatives and seven from the House of Councillors. Impeached judges cannot appeal the Judges Impeachment Court's decision, and automatically lose their legal licenses and pensions.

"However, judges can ask the Judges Impeachment Court to restore their license five or more years after they are impeached."

By Mainichi Shimbun (12/25/2008), Link to article (last visited 2008/12/26)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Executives sued for stance over diseased kidney transplant

"MATSUYAMA--A group of kidney disease patients filed a damages suit against five executives of The Japan Society for Transplantation on Wednesday, claiming the society violated their right to choose medical treatment by encouraging a ban on diseased kidney transplants.

"In the suit filed with the Matsuyama District Court, the seven plaintiffs--three who underwent kidney transplants and four who are on artificial dialysis--in Ehime Prefecture demanded about 60 million yen in compensation from the five executives, including the society director.

"According to the suit, the society erroneously stated in March last year that transplanting diseased kidneys is experimental medical care and denied the validity of the procedure.

"The suit further claims that the society's stance led the central government to ban the transplants in principle, even though they are an indispensable form of treatment.

"The group also plans to file a suit against the central government over its revision in July last year of guidelines for the Organ Transplant Law to ban the transplants in principle, demanding state compensation and acceptance of the transplants.

"Shinichi Oshima, a defendant in the case and the president of the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology who was serving as vice director of the society at the time of the statement, said: "I just stated an opinion as an expert based on the medical standard at the time. I didn't intend to violate the rights of patients.""

By Yomiuri Shimbun (12/11/2008), Link to article (last visited 12/13/2008)

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Diet passes bill granting Japanese nationality to children born out of wedlock

"The Diet on Friday passed a bill to revise the Nationality Law, which had been blasted as unconstitutional and discriminatory against children of mixed couples born out of wedlock.

"However, the discussions in the Diet did not go as smoothly as planned because of concerns over fake nationality claims and even some xenophobic messages from the public.

"The revised law will allow children born to an unwed Japanese father and foreign mother to claim Japanese nationality if the father recognizes paternity. Under the old law, children whose fathers recognized paternity before birth were granted Japanese nationality. But those who were recognized after birth could not gain nationality unless their parents got married.

"The Justice Ministry estimates that between 600 and 700 children a year will become eligible for Japanese nationality under the revised law, which will apply to children born after January 2003.

"The bill passed by an overwhelming majority, with support from the ruling coalition, Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.

"Only three days of deliberations were enough to pass the legislation in both chambers of the Diet, thanks largely to an agreement reached between the LDP and Minshuto, the largest opposition party, to enact the revised law as soon as possible.

"The government submitted the bill to the Diet in November, following a Supreme Court ruling in June that said a provision in the Nationality Law barring children born out of wedlock from attaining nationality was "unreasonably discriminatory and unconstitutional."

"However, nine lawmakers from the opposition camp or independents voted against the bill, saying it lacked measures to prevent false nationality claims. Three LDP members abstained from voting.

"Concerns about the bill started to intensify just before the Lower House unanimously passed the bill on Nov. 18.

"About 100 lawmakers, mainly from the LDP, created a parliamentarian league calling for measures, such as DNA tests, to prevent false nationality claims.

"The ruling party, eager to have the bill passed swiftly, warned members of the Lower House legal affairs committee that they would be replaced if they voted against the bill.

"As a result, several members abstained from voting in the Lower House plenary session, and deliberations were completed in one day.

"But after the bill was sent to the Upper House, objections were raised by members of Minshuto, which holds the most seats in the chamber. Some opposition lawmakers criticized the lack of debate on the bill in the Lower House.

"Citizens opposed to the bill had inundated high-ranking officials and lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps with faxes and e-mail messages.

"One Lower House member's office received enough faxes to create a 20-centimeter-high stack. Although most of the messages called for further revisions to stipulate DNA tests, at least one citizen, apparently concerned about the Japanese identity, said, "Japan will be overrun."

"The Upper House committee devoted about seven hours over two days to deliberate the bill, about twice the amount of time in the Lower House.

"The concerns over false claims stemmed from an increasing number of cases in which foreign nationals seeking to work in Japan for a long time arrange fake marriages with Japanese citizens to gain legal resident status.

"Critics of the bill said that without the marriage requirement, some foreign women could pay Japanese men to falsely claim paternal recognition to acquire nationality for the children and obtain legal status for themselves to stay in the country.

"To address the fears over false nationality claims, the ruling coalition and Minshuto submitted an additional resolution to the Upper House legal affairs committee. The resolution, which was adopted along with the bill on Friday, calls for the government to report on the application of the revised law every six months, as well as the need to introduce such measures as DNA tests to prevent abuse of the system.

"In addition, the parties included a clause in the law that makes fake nationality claims punishable by a prison term of up to one year or a maximum fine of 200,000 yen.

"Although crime experts say DNA tests could remove any doubts about paternity, Justice Ministry officials remain cautious about adopting the procedure, saying it could create a new form of discrimination against children of foreign parents. The Supreme Court's ruling in June recognized Japanese nationality for all 10 plaintiffs--children born out of wedlock to Filipino mothers and Japanese fathers.

"Following the ruling, the Justice Ministry began work to lift the marriage requirement in the Nationality Law.

"While the revised law could have an immediate effect of hundreds of children, it will also open the door for such children who live in their mother's countries."

By Asahi Shimbun (12/5/2008), Link to article (last visited 12/5/2008)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"New Supreme Court justice

"The Supreme Court's new chief justice took office Nov. 25. Mr. Hironobu Takesaki, who had served as head of the Tokyo High Court since February 2007, was promoted to the highest post of Japan's judiciary over the heads of 14 justices of the Supreme Court. This is the first time in 48 years that chief justice has been appointed without first serving as justice of the Supreme Court. Mr. Takesaki will serve in the new position until July 2014, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.

"Former chief justice Jiro Shimada retired on Nov. 21 after heading the top court for slightly more than two years. It is said that Mr. Shimada recommended that Mr. Takesaki succeed him, demonstrating his high level of trust in him. It is also believed that the relatively young Mr. Takesaki, who will be able to serve as chief justice for about five years and eight months, was chosen so that the Supreme Court can tide over a possible change of government without being swayed by it.

"Mr. Takesaki, an expert on criminal cases, was dispatched by the Supreme Court to the United States in 1988 to study its jury system. From 1997 to 2006, he served in important positions of the top court's secretariat. He displayed strong leadership in introducing the lay judge system, under which citizens will sit together with professional judges and try serious criminal cases.

"The lay judge system, which will start in May 2009, is a major reform in the nation's legal system in recent years. The choice of Mr. Takesaki as chief justice points to the Supreme Court's strong determination to have the lay judge system take roots in Japanese society.

"As Mr. Takesaki said, while the system helps deepen citizens' understanding of and trust in the nation's legal system, it also imposes some burdens on them. He and the Supreme Court should continually try to detect and solve problems related to the lay judge system to ensure fair trials and the smooth participation of citizens. The Supreme Court under Mr. Takesaki also should not shy away from passing clear rulings on constitutionality questions of important issues."

By Editorial (Japan Times, 12/3/2008), Link to article (last visited 12/3/2008)

"Companies plan for citizen judge start

"With the new citizen judge system just months away, companies are trying to figure out ways to cope with possible interruptions to their business caused by staff forced to take leave.

"Companies are also trying to lessen the burden on such employees by creating new paid leave or arranging mental care for those who could be traumatized by dealing with crimes in court.

"Small businesses, however, fear participation by their employees will result in a serious worker shortage. They are asking for special consideration to allow their workers to decline to serve.

"Starting Saturday, the first crop of citizen judge candidates began receiving notices from the Supreme Court that they had been selected for the system that starts in May.

"Department store chain Takashimaya Co. on the same day posted on its in-house website details about special leave created in April 2007 to allow citizen judge service. Both full-time and part-time workers of the stores will be paid wages for their days in court, the company said.

"Under the new system, six citizens will join three professional judges to try serious crimes such as murder. Seven in 10 trials are expected to end within three days, but some could last for a week or more.

"Toyota Motor Corp. plans to create a special leave. It is urging workers receiving notices to consult their section chiefs about work schedules.

"Toyota says it needs to know who may be called up so it can adjust assignments for long business trips.

"Delivery service Sagawa Express Co. will not pay for additional leave, but it still wants employees to report when they receive notices, as other workers may have to be assigned to cover their work areas while they attend trials.

"Meanwhile, shipping firm Mitsui O.S.K. Lines told employees who spend most of their year at sea to advise the court that "it is difficult" for them to serve.

"According to a survey by the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry in October, only one in four small or midsize firms has set special court leave, or plans to do so.

"Many small firms said they could not afford to spare workers to serve and asked for special exemptions, it said.

"Some businesses also worry about how the trials will affect their employees.

"Job information firm Recruit Co. will have its managers, together with doctors, take care of employees' mental health after they serve as judges. A Recruit official said courts should try to avoid showing explicit crime photos to citizen judges.

"A call center set up by the top court received 3,890 inquiries and complaints from citizens on Monday alone."

By Asahi Shimbun(12/3/2008), Link to article (last visited 12/3/2008)