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Japan lawyers' group seeks end to death penalty

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) is moving toward announcing a goal of ending the death penalty in Japan by 2020, while a lawyer for crime victims who support continuing the penalty expressed opposition.

    The JFBA plans to propose "a declaration seeking an overall reform of the penal system, including the abolishment of the death penalty" at a human rights meeting on Oct. 7 in the city of Fukui, during a gathering of lawyers from around the country. Every year, the JFBA decides on its policy directions at one of these meetings. If a majority of the attendees vote in favor, a policy is adopted.

    A draft of the proposal reads, "It is very natural that relatives of deceased crime victims would desire strict penalties," but still aims to have the death penalty in Japan abolished by 2020, when Japan will host the United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. It also proposes considering the introduction of penalties such as life imprisonment to take the death penalty's place.

    The draft proposal cites as reasons for abolishing the death penalty cases like the "Hakamada Case," where a retrial -- appealed against by prosecutors -- has been granted to a former death-row inmate, leading to his release from detention. "If an innocent person is executed due to false accusations, there will be no way to undo that," the draft says.

    Until now, the JFBA's stance has been to "hold society-wide debate on the abolishment of the capital punishment." A source with the federation says, "With the trend among advanced countries being abolishment of the death penalty, there was discussion about whether it was OK for Japan to have a stance of maintaining the death penalty while being host country to the U.N. congress."

    However, according to a Cabinet Office public opinion poll released in 2015, around 80 percent of respondents said they thought the death penalty was inevitable.

    Lawyer Sakura Kamitani, who works with a support group for crime victims, expressed doubt about the JFBA's plan, saying, "There are many crime victims and their families who want the death penalty. This is something that involves people's thoughts and beliefs, and is it really something that should be decided by a majority vote?"

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