China postpones execution of Japanese man for drug trafficking
China on Monday postponed the planned execution of a Japanese citizen convicted of drug trafficking until at least Tuesday, Japanese media said, DPA reported.
Relatives of Mitsunobu Akano, 65, were believed to have met him on Monday at a detention centre in the north-eastern Chinese city of Dalian, the Kyodo News reported.
The relatives and Japanese diplomats were "waiting for a report from China about the planned execution," which was postponed until Tuesday, the news agency quoted unidentified sources as saying.
Contacted by telephone, a Japanese embassy spokeswoman referred all questions to the Japanese consulate in Dalian. The consulate's main switchboard was unanswered on Monday, a national holiday in China.
On Saturday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao defended the death sentences against Akano and three other Japanese citizens convicted of drug smuggling, Kyodo reported Sunday.
At a meeting with Japanese Finance Minister Naoto Kan, Wen said the four convicted drug traffickers had committed a "serious crime" and that the sentences were "based on Chinese law," the agency said.
If Akano's execution goes ahead, it would be the first of a Japanese citizen in China since the two nations normalized diplomatic relations in 1972.
Despite pleas for clemency from the British government and international rights groups, China executed British man Akmal Shaikh for drug trafficking in December, the first execution of a European national in China in 50 years.
China has reported several other executions of foreigners convicted of drug trafficking. Most of them were citizens of neighbouring Asian countries such as Myanmar and Taiwan.
In September, Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper said Akano had been wanted by Japanese police since he fled the country in 2002.
Akano was "believed to be the ringleader of a group of Japanese and Chinese accused of pulling off a string of robberies in Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures between 2002 and 2003," the newspaper said.
He was arrested in China in 2004 and sentenced to death in June 2008. The death sentenced was confirmed last year by a higher court, Chinese media said.
London-based Amnesty International last week appealed to China to make public its annual number of death sentences and executions, which remain a state secret.
Amnesty said China again executed more people than the rest of the world put together in 2009, adding that "evidence from previous years and a number of current sources indicates that the figure remains in the thousands."
On Thursday, five Chinese citizens convicted of drug trafficking were executed in the south-eastern province of Fujian, the official Xinhua news agency said.