• Press Release

Japan: Two men hanged as disgraceful executions continue

December 18, 2015

The Japanese authorities’ reprehensible use of the death penalty shows no sign of letting up as another two men were executed today, taking the total number of executions to 14 under the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Amnesty International said.

Sumitoshi Tsuda, 63, was hanged in the early hours of Friday morning at Tokyo detention centre, the first execution of a person sentenced to death in a lay judge trial. He was convicted in 2011 of killing three of his neighbours. Kazuyuki Wakabayashi, 39, was executed at Sendai detention centre in north-east Japan. He was sentenced to death in 2007 for robbery and violence which left two people dead.

“The Japanese authorities’ willingness to put people to death is chilling and must end now before more lives are lost. The death penalty is not justice or an answer to tackling crime, it is a cruel form of punishment that flies in the face of respect for life,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.

“Japan should immediately introduce an official moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolition of the death penalty.” 

Japan is on the wrong side of history when it comes to the death penalty and among a small minority of countries around the world that continue to execute people. In 2014, only 22 countries carried out executions while, as at November 2015, 140 countries globally have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

The Mongolian parliament passed legislation in early December that will abolish the death penalty in the country when it comes into effect in September 2016.

“If the politicians of Japan don’t step up and show some leadership, as President Elbegdorj of Mongolia did, Japan will continue to fall behind the times,” said Roseann Rife.

“Japan’s continued use of the death penalty makes it stand out for all the wrong reasons – across the world, and increasingly also in the East Asia region.”


Executions in Japan are shrouded in secrecy with prisoners typically given only a few hours’ notice, but some may be given no warning at all. Their families and lawyers are usually notified about the execution only after it has taken place.

The lack of adequate legal safeguards for death row inmates in Japan has been widely criticized by UN experts.

This includes defendants being denied adequate legal counsel and a lack of a mandatory appeal process for capital cases. Several prisoners with mental and intellectual disabilities are also known to have been executed or remain on death row.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime, the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the offender or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.