|Execution chamber, Tokyo Detention Center, Japan|
Behind drawn curtains, where the press and public are forbidden, one of the world’s most advanced democracies is frozen in time, practising a tradition the rest of the world long ago left behind.
There, in a carpeted room, are two red squares. People call this place the “Tokyo death house” and “the secret theatre”.
Whatever the name, the result is the same: Prisoners are hanged in front of a large glass window separating the condemned from the captivated audience.
This is how Japan exacts justice, and the hanging is not even the most disturbing part of the process.
For years, often decades, inmates accused of murder or treason are kept in solitary confinement. They are tortured not only by the agonising wait to die but often to confessing to crimes they did not commit.
Last year a man named Iwao Hakamada was released after 45 years on death row. He is believed to have been convicted on falsified evidence.
Amnesty International staff in Japan told news.com.au that 93 out of 128 death row inmates are appealing for a retrial. None will likely be successful.
This week time ran out for a man who had been on death row for 46 years. Okunishi Masaru died at Hachioji Medical Prison on Sunday, aged 89.
|Execution chamber (upstairs and downstairs) as seen|
from the witnesses' gallery (Tokyo Detention Center).
He too had protested his innocence but had his requests for a retrial rejected on eight separate occasions.
His death has shone the spotlight on Japan, the only industrialised democracy other than the United States that continues to enforce capital punishment.
The US, for its part, is turning a corner. Public pressure there has forced states to reconsider their stance and, in some cases, abolish the death penalty altogether. The conversation hasn’t even started in Japan, and that’s exactly how they want it to stay.
Japan has executed 103 people since 1993. Of those, four were women. All 103 were convicted of murder. Most were convicted of multiple murders. Okunishi Masaru was next.
The high-profile case started in March, 1961, and involved the poisoning of 17 people, according to the Japan Times.
Five women, including Okunishi’s wife, died after drinking wine laced with a pesticide. Okunishi confessed to poisoning the women to “end a love triangle” but later retracted his confession. He was acquitted in 1964 but five years later was sentenced to hang. For 46 years he protested his innocence to no avail.
Amnesty International this week joined a growing vocal opposition to the treatment of the accused and the way they are executed. In a statement, the organisation labelled Okunishi’s death an “urgent” reminder of the need for change.
“Okunishi Masaru may not have gone to the gallows, but Japan’s justice system totally failed him. It is outrageous he was denied the retrial his case unquestionably merited and instead was left to languish on death row for more than 46 years,” said Hiroka Shoji, Amnesty’s East Asia researcher.
“It is too late for Okunishi Masaru but others remain on death row convicted primarily on the basis of forced ‘confessions’. The Japanese authorities must urgently review their cases to ensure that time does not run out for them to see justice.”
|The room where inmates meet with their religious counselor|
or chaplain minutes before they are executed.
Before Okunishi’s death, 44-year-old Tsukasa Kanda was executed for the murder of 31-year-old Rie Isogai in central Japan, in 2007. Tsukasa was the 12th man to be executed in Japan since Shinzo Abe was elected as Prime Minister.
Something changed in 2010 when the country’s Justice Minister Keiko Chiba allowed journalists into the gallows for the first time.
There, photographers documented large glass windows, carpet floors and wooden walls.
In the centre of the room, two red squares are placed beneath a noose. There a prisoner stands with a rope around his or her neck before the trapdoor opens and they are dropped into a second room below. The second room has grey tiled floors and a large glass viewing window.
American Journalist Charles Lane wrote about the two-room setup in 2003. He said what he saw shocked him.
“I became critical of the Japanese death penalty. The dichotomy between that nice upper chamber and the chilly ‘world of death’ below seemed emblematic of the wider contrast between the shining, safe streets of which Japan is justifiably proud, and the sometimes troubling methods the authorities employ in the name of public safety.”
He said he was surprised by how secretive Japan was about the entire process.
“Probably the biggest difference between the death penalty in Japan and the death penalty in the US is that the entire process in Japan is shrouded in secrecy. In the US, a death-row inmate can send messages from his cell. But in Japan, death-row inmates are held in solitary confinement, visits limited to a bare minimum of family members and defence counsel.”
Amnesty said Japan continues to rely heavily on confessions obtained through torture.
“There are no clear limits on the length of interrogations, which are not fully recorded and which lawyers are not permitted to attend,” the organisation said in a statement this week.
Iwao Hakamada was released last year. Once out, he told the world about how he’d been treated.
The former boxer had confessed to murdering four people in 1966. He retracted his statement shortly after. He said he was coerced into confessing, like many others in a country boasting a 99 per cent conviction rate.
“One of the interrogators put my thumb on an ink pad, drew it to a written confession record and ordered me ‘write your name here’ (while) shouting at me, kicking me and wrenching my arm,” he told Amnesty.
The case against Hakamada rested on bloodstained pyjamas, prosecutors said. But instead of presenting the pyjamas at the trial they found five other pieces of clothing, each with blood on them, at his workplace.
He was sentenced to death but in 2006 one of the judges revealed he’d always believed Hakamada was innocent. It took until 2014 for him to be freed. Sadly, Okunishi Masaru never saw such a moment.
Source: news.au.com, October 8, 2015
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Footnote 1The following data was provided to DPN by a reader who "spent more than 6 months at the Tokyo Detention Center in solitary confinement pending trial and had more than enough time to read the rules, measure the cell and learn more about the other people who were on the same floor (despite being forbidden to contact them in any way)":
- 'Solitary isolation' in a 5 sq m cell" The cell is actually 6.48m².
- 'Seated upright at all times inside cell (except bedtime)': The seating requirement is also lifted twice a day during in-room exercices (15 minutes each), during the afternoon (午睡, afternoon nap time) for more than 1 hour when people are allowed to sleep, but not allowed to use the futon) and also if going to the sports (30 minutes in the morning on the roof, only during weekdays except fourth Thursday of the month and specified days). Except from that starting 7am (7:30am on holidays) until 5pm people are indeed required to be seated on the floor (no chair provided).
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