JAPAN CONTINUES TO EXECUTE MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS
September 10, 2009: The government of Japan continues to execute prisoners who are mentally ill, according to a new Amnesty International report.
Hanging by a thread: mental health and the death penalty in Japan highlights five cases where mental illness has been reported, including two cases with extensive medical documentation. These prisoners remain on death row facing execution.
The exact number of death row prisoners with mental illness is unknown.
Amnesty Internationalâs report also emphasises that prison conditions need to be improved to prevent inmates from developing serious mental health problems while on death row.
Japan has signed up to international standards that require that those with a serious mental illness be protected from the death penalty. The country is contravening those standards by its failure to prevent the execution of prisoners who are mentally ill.
As of 3 September 2009, 102 people are on death row in Japan waiting to find out if their government will put them to death. For those who have completed the legal process, death could come at a few hours' notice. Each day could be their last.
The arrival of a prison officer with a death warrant would signal their execution within hours. Some live like this year after year, sometimes for decades.
"To allow a prisoner to live for prolonged periods under the daily threat of imminent death is cruel, inhuman and degrading," said James Welsh, Amnesty Internationalâs Health Coordinator and lead author of the report. "
Amnesty International is concerned that prisoners are not allowed to talk to one another â a restriction enforced by strict isolation. Contact with family members, lawyers and others can be restricted to as little as five minutes at a time.
Apart from visits to the toilet, prisoners are not allowed to move around the cell and must remain seated. Death row prisoners are less likely than other prisoners to have access to fresh air and light and more likely to suffer additional punishments because of behaviour that may infringe the strict rules imposed on them.
The report calls on the government of Japan to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. It also urges the government of Japan to review all cases where mental illness may be a relevant factor, to ensure that prisoners with mental illness are not executed and to improve conditions for prisoners so that prisoners will not suffer declining mental health or the development of serious mental illness. (Sources: Amnesty International, 10/09/09)