JAPAN. COURT HEARING ON "SECRET EXECUTIONS" OPENS
September 30, 2005: a court hearing opened on a lawsuit filed by Tomoyoshi Emura, a lawyer who was seeking disclosure of the layout of the execution chamber at the Osaka detention centre in a bid to break the secrecy surrounding executions in Japan. Emura, argued at the Tokyo District Court that, based on the information disclosure law, the Justice Ministry should rescind its January 2004 decision to reject his request for disclosure of the layout of the execution facility.
While the ministry said in the decision that disclosure "may lead to escapes and damage public security and order," Emura insisted the refusal should be based on concrete, not abstract, concerns.
"It is necessary for the government to disclose information on the capital punishment system and its management so the public can discuss whether to abolish the death penalty," he told the court. "The execution chamber layout will provide the public with a clue about how executions are carried out." The government, meanwhile, sought dismissal of the suit.
The suit, the first legal action of its kind in Japan, was followed by two other lawsuits in which other lawyers were seeking disclosure of government documents, such as execution orders and execution reports which contained executed death row inmates' last wills and how their bodies should be dealt with after their deaths.
Such information had not been made public despite the lawyers' disclosure requests.
The plaintiffs were members of a Japan Federation of Bar Associations [JFBA] committee, which was working on compiling bills to suspend executions. They requested the ministry to release the documents between November 2003 and February 2004.
Toru Motobayashi, chief of the plaintiffs' group, told the court, "We do not know the decision-making process within the government over executions and how it picks inmates from death row. We do not know how executions are carried out. We do not know if executed inmates felt pain, either." "Without such information, we cannot discuss whether to abolish capital punishment, and we cannot confirm if death row inmates are treated fairly in accordance with due process," Motobayashi, former JFBA chairman, added. (Sources: Keiji Hirano via BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, 30/09/2005)