Executions continued until August when a new government took power. The newly appointed Minister of Justice called for a public debate on the death penalty and instituted a group to study “transparency” during interrogations. However, the pre-trial daiyo kangoku (detention) system continued. Prisoners faced prolonged periods of solitary confinement and inadequate medical access. In July, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons expressed great concern at trafficking for labour exploitation and recommended stronger laws and labour inspections to protect migrant workers’ rights.
In August, Prime Minister Aso Taro called for general elections following the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) defeat in Tokyo local elections. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was voted into power, ending more than 50 years of rule by the LDP. Hatoyama Yukio was elected Prime Minister of a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party.
In October, Minister of Justice Chiba Keiko established a committee to study transparency in the pre-trial daiyo kangoku system. However, she did not specify a timeline for proposals. The daiyo kangoku system, which allows detention of suspects for 23 days, is associated with intimidation and abusive interrogation methods aimed at obtaining confessions.
- In June, the Tokyo High Court granted a retrial for Sugaya Toshikazu. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1993 after being convicted of murdering a four-year-old girl. Sugaya Toshikazu’s conviction was based on inaccurate DNA evidence and a confession obtained under the daiyo kangoku system. He had retracted his confession twice during the course of his trials.
Under a new lay-judge (saiban-in) system, citizens joined professional judges in deciding verdicts and sentencing. All serious crimes, including those carrying the death penalty, were eligible to be tried under this system.
- In August, in the first case under the new system at Tokyo District Court, a 72-year-old man was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Seven men were executed in 2009. Approximately 106 prisoners, including several mentally ill prisoners, were at risk of execution and lived in particularly harsh prison conditions.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
The government forcibly repatriated asylum-seekers to countries where they were at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. As of September, 1,123 individuals had filed asylum claims. The refugee recognition process was very time-consuming and only 15 individuals were granted refugee states, including three after appeal. Over 90 per cent of asylum-seekers were not permitted to work, did not receive health insurance and were ineligible for public assistance.
- In April, the government deported Filipino nationals Arlan and Sarah Calderon because of their irregular status, separating them from their 13-year-old daughter, Noriko Calderon. The Ministry of Justice gave Noriko Calderon, who was born in Japan and speaks only Japanese, a choice of returning to the Philippines with her parents or remaining in Japan alone.
In July, bills revising the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act and the Basic Resident Registration Law were enacted to create a new residence control and resident certificate system for foreign nationals in the next three years. Civil organizations raised concerns that undocumented foreign residents, including asylum-seekers, faced exclusion from basic public services, such as education and health care.
Violence against women and girls
In July, after considering Japan’s sixth periodic report, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed its concern at the obstacles faced by women victims of domestic and sexual violence when bringing complaints and seeking protection. It was particularly concerned at the precarious situation of immigrant women, minority women and women of vulnerable groups.
CEDAW reiterated its recommendation that Japan should urgently find a lasting solution for the situation of the “comfort women” – survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery system. This should include compensation for the victims, the prosecution of perpetrators and educating the Japanese public about these crimes. Twelve local councils adopted resolutions calling for an apology and compensation for survivors of the “comfort women” system.
Amnesty International visits/report
- Amnesty International delegates visited Japan in February and April.
- Hanging by a thread: mental health and the death penalty in Japan