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TOKYO — Contact with the outside world through visits and the exchange of letters makes life worth living for death row inmates in Japan, even if just for another day, as they reflect on their crimes or pursue the possibility of future retrials.
As one might expect, a questionnaire survey found the biggest pleasure for death row inmates is having contact with family and friends. But what stood out is that nearly 80 percent of those respondents were either appealing for retrials or planning to do so.
The nationwide survey conducted by an anti-death penalty group called Forum 90 and Mizuho Fukushima, a House of Councillors member of the Social Democratic Party, found that issues such as the treating of certain medical conditions and obviously fears of facing the gallows weighed heavily on their minds.
Others expressed remorse for their crimes and apologies to the victims’ families.
The questionnaires were sent out in May to 129 death row inmates, of whom 73 responded. Fukushima is a senior member of a group of multiparty lawmakers seeking the abolition of the death penalty.
Among the respondents, 50 said they are appealing for retrials, while eight more are planning to do so.
Asked their greatest pleasure of prison life, 20 cited meeting with visitors, 19 said writing and receiving letters, and 17 said watching DVDs and videos, which they are permitted to do on a periodic basis.
Although most have visitors or enjoy correspondence, 13 admitted to having no visitors while five were not involved in letter writing, indicating their loneliness.
Sixty complained of health problems, with one inmate saying it is difficult to receive proper treatment for dentures while another inmate complained of lack of exercise. Many said they regularly receive medical treatment or medication for high blood pressure, backaches and prostate diseases.
As for what they would want to eat most, with multiple answers allowed, 10 cited noodles, nine answered sweets, such as cakes, and eight gave sushi as their choice.
The oldest respondent is 83 years old, while the youngest is 30.
It was the third survey on death row inmates by Forum 90 and Fukushima, following those conducted in 2008 and 2011. The survey also provides a section for comments.
A 68-year-old man involved in a mass murder case by a radical sect in the early 1970s noted, “Our life continues even if the death penalty on us has been finalized.”
“We are making efforts to improve our own personal qualities, while considering why we committed crimes and how we could prevent others from making the same mistakes.”
He criticized the system of capital punishment for condemning death row inmates for the crimes they committed in the past without acknowledging the work they have done to improve themselves.
“The Justice Ministry announces immediately after executions the details of crimes the hanged inmates committed so it can condemn them for who they were at the time of their crimes,” he said.
A 57-year-old man noted, “I was scared for the past 10 years as I imagined myself on the gallows and hanged. But the fear stirred a feeling that I’m living, with blood running through my veins,” adding that under the circumstances he gradually began to accept his fate.
“I dreamed of the abolition of the death penalty, but at the same time I thought it would not be terminated while I’m alive,” he said. “I leave the dream as it is…I have no regrets about this world.”
A 45-year-old inmate accused of involvement in the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system as a member of the AUM Shinrikyo doomsday cult contributed a poem titled “Sinner.”
Calling himself “an absolutely ungrateful child” in the poem, he lamented his powerlessness to support his aging parents. He said he felt crushed by the weight of the crimes he committed.
“I cannot go back into the past…I am a sinner who stands alone on a cliff,” he wrote.
Taku Fukada, a member of Forum 90, said the group hopes to continue conducting the survey “as a way to enable death row inmates to convey what they are thinking to the outside world.”
In Japan, 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.
The U.N. Human Rights Committee urged Japan last year to “give due consideration to the abolition of the death penalty.”
The government has mainly cited the outcome of a survey, which indicated more than 80 percent of people in Japan support the death penalty, to legitimize its continuance.
But a recent study by researchers found that the death penalty in Japan is not as deeply entrenched as previously claimed, particularly after people have been exposed to more information on the subject.
According to human rights group Amnesty International, 140 countries, or about 70 percent of all nations in the world, had abolished the death penalty by law or in practice as of the end of 2014. In 2014, only 22 countries, including Japan, executed inmates.
Source: Japan Today, November 18, 2015