"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Japan: 2 ex-justice ministers join anti-death penalty rally

Opposed to capital punishment (file photo)
Opposed to capital punishment (file photo) 
TOKYO — Ahead of the Oct 10 World Day against the Death Penalty, around 200 people gathered in Tokyo on Saturday to seek the abolition of capital punishment, with two former justice ministers joining them to share their experience of having the power to issue execution orders.

At the meeting Seiken Sugiura, who served as justice minister from 2005 to 2006 under a Liberal Democratic Party government, said: “After becoming justice minister in October 2005, I seriously thought about capital punishment, and I could not come up with an answer about why we dare to claim lives of death-row inmates, even if they committed heinous crimes.”

Sugiura did not issue any execution orders during his tenure, and since withdrawing from politics, the lawyer has been involved in debates within the Japan Federation of Bar Associations about the death penalty.

“Through research at home as well as abroad with the JFBA panel, I am now convinced that we should create a society without the death penalty” at a time when about 70 percent of nations around the world have abolished it by law or in practice, he said.

The JFBA urged the government in 2011 to immediately start a public debate on its abolition, and to suspend executions while discussions are going on.

Sugiura told the meeting, which was organized by a civic group opposed to capital punishment, that he expects the lawyers’ organization to clearly declare its opposition to the death penalty in the near future.

Hideo Hiraoka, a justice minister under a former Democratic Party of Japan government, also said at the meeting, “I was not an abolitionist when I assumed the portfolio in September 2011.”

But Hiraoka also did not order executions during his tenure through January 2012.

“I examined documents of some death row inmates to ask myself if I could issue orders to hang them, and I found I could not go ahead,” he said.

While a justice minister is authorized to issue the order, “It is the top leader of the country who can clear the way for debate on the death penalty system,” Hiraoka said.

“To persuade the leader, ordinary citizens must be sufficiently informed of the situation surrounding the death penalty, including the fact that many countries in the world have already terminated it,” he added.

The secrecy surrounding executions in Japan has been criticized at home and abroad, with neither death row inmates nor their lawyers and families given advance notice of hangings. It also remains unclear what criteria authorities use in deciding when inmates are to be executed.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee urged Japan last year to “give due consideration to the abolition of the death penalty.”

However, the government hanged a death-row inmate in June, bringing the total number of executions under the second administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, launched in December 2012, to 12.

Among countries maintaining the death penalty, only 22, including Japan, executed inmates in 2014.

Source: Japan Today, October 4, 2015

Death row inmates write about their feelings ahead of hangman's noose

Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
One convicted murderer, a former gang boss, wrote about his fear of climbing the scaffold and dropping through the trapdoor with a noose around his neck to his death.

And a remorseful former United Red Army terrorist, also under sentence of death, expressed repentance.

These are among replies from more than 70 death row inmates about their current states of mind to a questionnaire sent by citizens group seeking the abolition of capital punishment.

The group, “Shikei Haishi Kokusai Joyaku no Hijun wo Motomeru Forum 90” (Forum 90 that seeks ratification of international treaty for abolition of death penalty), recently compiled the results of the survey and published them in a book.

“We hope that the results will be used as a cue to think about the pros and cons of the capital punishment system,” the group said.

It conducted similar surveys in 2008 and 2011.

As of May, there were 130 people on death row whose rulings had been finalized. The civic group contacted 127 of them from May, along with Mizuho Fukushima, an Upper House lawmaker and former chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party.

Three death row inmates were excluded from the survey.

One of them was Masaru Okunishi, 89, who was seeking a retrial over his conviction for killing five people with poisoned wine in Nabari, Mie Prefecture, in 1961.

The group explained that it refrained from sending a questionnaire to Okunishi because of his poor health condition.

Of the 127 death row inmates who received the questionnaire, 73 replied by July. One was Hiroshi Sakaguchi, 68, who was a member of the United Red Army and involved in murder cases committed by the terrorist group.

Sakaguchi, whose request for retrial was turned down in 2013, wrote in the questionnaire, “Even after the rulings were finalized, our lives as humans do not end (immediately).”

He added, “I am living my life seriously by looking squarely at the crimes I committed, thinking about the causes of my misconduct and hoping to break away from my past.”

A former executive of a gangster organization wrote about his anxieties when it comes to be executed.

“After my death sentence was finalized, I felt fearful about being hanged. When I imagined climbing onto the execution platform and being hanged, I got scared.”

Another death row inmate sounded apologetic that he was still breathing after having committed such a heinous crime.

“In spite of the fact that I committed a big crime, I am still allowed to live even today. What a big crime and an impermissible thing it is for me to continue to live even now!”

The results of the survey were published by Impact Shuppankai under the title of “Nenpo, Shikei Haishi 2015--Shikeishu Kanbo kara” (Year book, Abolition of death penalty 2015--From cells of death row inmates).

Source: The Asahi Shimbun, Motoki Kaneko, October 4, 2015

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