Page last updated at 03:22 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 04:22 UK

China executes Japanese drug smuggler

Prisoners at a sentencing rally in Wenzhou, China (April 2004)
China says it executes fewer prisoners than it has done in the past

China has executed a Japanese man convicted of drug smuggling, China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

He is the first Japanese citizen to be put to death in China since diplomatic ties between the two countries were re-established in 1972.

Mitsunobu Akano was executed in northeast Liaoning Province.

Both Japan and China employ the death penalty, but Japanese officials said they feared a possible impact on ties after the execution.

Xinhua reported that Akano, 65, was caught illegally carrying more than 1.5kg of "stimulant drugs" at an airport in Dalian in September 2006.

Legal cover?

Police also found another kilogram of drugs in the luggage of an unnamed accomplice. Both were attempting to take the drugs to Japan, Xinhua said.

The courts had clear and irrefutable evidence of drug smuggling and the death sentence was handed down and carried out in line with Chinese law, a Supreme Court announcement said.

Akano had appealed the court's decisions according to his legal rights, but the appeal was rejected. He had been treated legally during detention and trial, the announcement said.

"Although there exist differences in the judicial system (between the two countries), it is quite regrettable from the Japanese side," Kyodo news agency quoted Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama as saying before the execution was announced.

AFP news agency reported that Mr Hatoyama also said there was little Japan could do about another country's judicial process.

Hangman in Iran (2007)
China: thousands suspected executed by injection and shooting
Iran: more than 388 executions, by hanging or stoning
Iraq: more than 120 executions by hanging
Saudi Arabia: at least 69 executions by beheading or crucifixion
US: 52 executions by lethal injection or electrocution

Source: Amnesty International

Japan's Justice Minister Keiko Chiba also told reporters the punishment seemed unduly harsh.

"I am concerned about whether China's actions would fan Japanese public resistance," the minister said.

Beijing told Japan last week that it plans to execute three more Japanese drug smugglers this week - Teruo Takeda, 67, from Nagoya city; Hironori Ukai, 48, from Gifu prefecture; and Katsuo Mori, 67, of Fukushima prefecture.

Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada was reported to have met Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua last Friday to express concern about a possible Japanese backlash.

China executed a British drug smuggler in December, sparking British concerns that a mental health assessment of the victim had not been done.

Last week, the rights group Amnesty International urged China to disclose the number of prisoners it executes.

In its annual report on the use of the death penalty, Amnesty said some 714 people were known to have been executed in 18 countries in 2009.

But the group said the true global figure could be much higher, as thousands of executions were thought to have been carried out in China alone.

Beijing says it executes fewer people now than it has in the past, but has always maintained that details of its executions are a state secret.

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