Death row prisoners risk insanity

Conditions faced by Japan's death row inmates are pushing them to insanity, says human rights group Amnesty International, citing that prisoners and their families have no knowledge of when their execution will take place.


Prisoners on death row in Japan are driven into a state of insanity, international human rights watchdog Amnesty International revealed in a report on Thursday.


The report states that, as of September 2009, 102 inmates are awaiting death by hanging under “cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions”.


Prisoners are not informed of when the execution will be carried out; only the arrival of a prison officer with a death warrant signals the execution. Families are not notified until afterwards.


The execution can come within a few hours for those who have completed their legal process, the report says, but many still live for years or even decades awaiting the end of their ordeals in isolation.


“Their daily life is isolated. They are not allowed to talk to prison officers, to other inmates. Each day, they have to listen if prison officers will stop in front of their cell,” said James Welsh, Amnesty International’s lead author of the report, in a phone interview with FRANCE 24.


“It is an intolerable level of torture they are living,” Welsh said. "To allow a prisoner to live for prolonged periods under the daily threat of imminent death is cruel, inhuman and degrading.”


Japan has signed up to international standards which require that prisoners with a serious mental illness be protected from the death penalty.


Since January 2009, seven prisoners have been executed in Japan. Three people were executed in July during a historic election that has resulted in bringing a new centre-left government to power.


Welsh said he hopes to see more public debate on capital punishment as the newly-elected government has promised discussion on the subject.


But until now Japanese authorities have restricted access to these inmates, making it difficult to know the exact number of prisoners with mental illness awaiting execution.


Contacts to families, lawyers and other can be restricted to as little as five minutes at a time. Apart from visits to the toilet, inmates are not allowed to move around the cell and must remain seated.


“Difficulty arises when there is secrecy of the process,” said Welsh. "These inhuman conditions increase a prisoner’s anxiety and anguish and in many cases push prisoners over the edge and into a state of mental illness.”


As it calls on the Japanese government to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, Amnesty International has emphasised that measures should be taken to ensure that prisoners suffering from mental illness are not executed.

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