Japanese politician escapes death penalty in China after getting caught with 3 kg of drugs

Alongside Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, China hands out the most number of death penalties in the world.

A Chinese court on Friday sentenced former Japanese politician Takuma Sakuragi to life in prison in a drug trafficking case. While one African national was sentenced to death, another from Mali was given the life sentence. Sakuragi was given the life sentences in a 5-year-old case.

Sakuragi, now 76, was apprehended in 2013 with as much as 3.3 kilograms of illegal stimulants in his possession. Sakuragi, who is a former city assemblyman from Aichi, pleaded not guilty to the charges, AP reported. Usually, China sentences a person convicted of carrying at least 1 kg of drugs to death.

Sakuragi escaped the death penalty only because Chinese law prohibits giving the death penalty to people above the age of 75. Harsh anti-drug laws in China mean that many convicts get the death penalty. Alongside Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, China hands out the most number of death penalties in the world.

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Confiscated drugs Reuters

Sakuragi, who claimed that he was asked by a Nigerian acquaintance to carry a suitcase, said he will file an appeal in a higher court. The Japanese politician is determined to "fight to the end," his attorney said, according to Kyodo News. He has maintained that he was unaware that the luggage contained stimulants.

Complex case

"I have been working hard for six years (after being arrested) and I am looking forward to the final result," Sakuragi said, according to Kyodo. The man's health had considerably deteriorated during the long-term detention and trial. The court had pushed the deadline in the case multiple times citing complexities.

According to Amnesty International, China is the world's top executioner. While the rights watchdog has approximate figures on those condemned to death in Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the numbers for China remained untraceable, Amnesty said in a 2016 report.

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"Amnesty stopped publishing its estimated figures in 2009, challenging the Chinese government to reveal their own figures and demonstrate that they really are limiting their use of the death penalty - something they have claimed to be doing since the country's highest court began reviewing all death penalty cases in 2007. China remained the world's top executioner," a report by the rights watchdog had said.