Thursday, May 8, 2008

Execution Broadcast: Part 2

"The audio is scratchy and the voice of the protagonist has been altered to hide his identity. Those minor failings aside, the broadcast today of the execution of a man more than 50 years ago is the first time most Japanese have been confronted by the grim reality of their country's use of the death penalty.

"Campaigners hope the documentary, aired by Nippon Cultural Broadcasting, will strengthen calls for Japan to fall into line with every other developed country except the US and abolish capital punishment.

"The station defended its decision to air the execution amid accusations that it had invaded the man's privacy in his final, desperate moments alive.

""We aren't trying to make a statement for or against the death penalty," a spokesman told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. "Our only intention is to present the reality of executions and let our listeners decide for themselves."

"Others welcomed the broadcast for giving an unprecedented insight into Japan's secretive and, critics say, peculiarly inhumane use of capital punishment.

""If the justice ministry masks the reality, then it is up to the media to expose it," the filmmaker Tatsuya Mori told the paper. "There is great significance in letting the public know the truth."

"The recording, made at Osaka detention centre in 1955 to educate prison service workers, opens with a shaky rendition of Auld Lang Syne as the condemned man's fellow inmates watch him being taken from the cells.

"Moments later the prisoner, whose identity and crime are not revealed, says goodbye to his sister, who breaks down as he asks her to apologise to their mother and take care of his children.

"He is offered a final cigarette and even manages to share a joke with prison staff. In a dramatic finale, the chants of Buddhists priests are punctured by the opening of the trapdoor and the snap of the rope as it tightens around the condemned man's neck.

"Death does not come until 14 minutes later, when prison officers confirm that his heart has stopped beating.

"Aside from the introduction of stronger nylon rope, little about the way Japan executes its criminals has changed in the intervening years.

"Typically, death row inmates learn of their execution just minutes before they are led to the gallows; their families are informed later so they can collect the corpse for cremation.

"Though Japan's "secret executions" enjoy widespread public support, they have been denounced by Amnesty International, the EU and the UN, which has called for a global moratorium on the death penalty.

"Japan has hanged seven people already this year, including four in one day last month, compared with nine in 2007 and four in 2006, raising fears that it has embarked on a campaign of mass executions in defiance of international opinion.

"The justice minister, Kunio Hatoyama, has called for the introduction of a faster, more efficient system that would no longer require his signature on execution orders.

"The broadcast has rekindled the hanging debate ahead of the introduction next year of a lay judge system in which citizens, with the help of professional judges, will rule on murders and other serious offences for the first time since Japan's military leaders suspended the jury system in 1943.

"Overseas campaigners say Japan's widespread use of forced confessions risks sending innocent people to their deaths.

""Japanese authorities can learn much from America's experience with false confessions," said Steven A Drizin, legal director of the Centre on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.

"The centre recently filed an amicus curiae - or "friend of the court" - brief on behalf of Masaru Okunishi, an 81-year-old Japanese death row convict who has been proclaiming his innocence since 1969.

""Japanese law enforcement authorities, who have a 99% conviction rate, rely on exceedingly long interrogations and physical coercion to obtain confessions," Drizin said in a statement.

"Of the 165 inmates on death row in Japan at least a dozen are in their 70s and 80s.

"They include Iwao Hakamada, a 72-year-old former professional boxer who has spent a record 40 years on death row for the murders of a company executive, his wife and two children in 1966.

"Pressure for his release mounted after the judge who convicted him said last year that he was now convinced of Hakamada's innocence. His supporters said detectives beat him into confessing during marathon interrogations sessions that went on daily for almost three weeks.

"Sakae Menda, whose 34 years on death row ended when his conviction was quashed at a retrial in 1983, said: "I saw dozens of my fellow inmates sent to their deaths while I was in prison. None of them was satisfied with their conviction.""

By Justin McCurry (5/6/2008), The Guardian, Link to article (last visited 5/8/2008)

*Click here to listen.

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