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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

'Death Penalty Movie Week' to be held in Tokyo

Former death-row inmate Iwao Hakamada and his sister
Former death-row inmate Iwao Hakamada and his sister
8 films from home and abroad on the theme of capital punishment will screen at a Tokyo theater from Feb 13 to 19, providing Japanese viewers with an opportunity to contemplate the death penalty while their country maintains the policy in the face of a global trend towards its abolishment.

Films to be presented during the 5th "Death Penalty Movie Week" include "Freedom Moon" which depicts the struggle for exoneration by a death-row inmate Iwao Hakamada and his sister, as well as "Death by Hanging," directed by the legendary Nagisa Oshima in 1968.

Hakamada, a former professional boxer convicted of a 1966 quadruple murder, was released in March 2014 after a court decided to reopen the high-profile case. Prosecutors have appealed the court's ruling.

A movie on another death row inmate, Masaru Okunishi, who was convicted for the 1961 murder of 5 women, will also be shown.

Okunishi had once been acquitted over the murder known as "the Nabari wine poisoning case," but the verdict was overturned. While on death row for more than 40 years, he sought exoneration through retrial, but died of pneumonia last October at the age of 89.

From abroad, "The Sleeping Voice," a 2011 Spanish film set in 1940s Spain under the authoritarian rule of leader Gen. Francisco Franco, and 2 other European movies will also be screened.

"We need to give consideration through the screening to the fact that innocent people are sometimes killed in the name of the state," the organizer, Forum 90, said.

"At the same time we expect viewers to think about and discuss how a person who actually killed someone should be punished," the anti-death penalty group noted in its leaflet.

During the 7-day event at the Eurospace movie theater in Tokyo's Shibuya district, 4 movies will be shown per day, accompanied by sessions with guest speakers, including a lawmaker, scholars as well as Kim Sung Woong, director of "Freedom Moon," and Hakamada's sister Hideko.

Attracting around 4,500 viewers in total to the annual event during the past four years, Masakuni Ota, a Forum 90 member, said, "We have provided diversified standpoints in thinking about the death penalty by screening various movies."

"We welcome not only death penalty abolitionists but also those ardently supporting it" so the issue of capital punishment can be discussed from multiple points of view, he added.

Japan hanged 2 death row inmates in December, bringing the total number of executions under the second Shinzo Abe administration which began in December 2012 to 14. Around 70% of nations have abolished the death penalty by law or in practice.

Tokyo was urged by the U.N. Human Rights Committee in 2014 to "give due consideration to the abolition of the death penalty," but has legitimized its continuance by citing the outcome of a survey, which indicated more than 80 % of people in Japan support the death penalty.

Source: Japan Today, February 5, 2016

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