Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context.
31 March 2012
Cherry blossom, haikus and the temples of Kyoto – this is the stereotypical image of Japan that the country peddles abroad to encourage tourism.
However, there is a much more brutal and thuggish side to the Japanese state that is usually swept under the carpet – its love affair with the death penalty.
Three unnamed death-row inmates, all convicted of multiple murders, were hanged last Thursday 29 March 2012.
These were the first executions in Japan since two convicted killers were hanged in Tokyo in July 2010.
In the following month, August 2010, the Japanese media were admitted for the first time to the execution chamber of a jail in the Japanese capital. The BBC reported on the visit as follows:
“The 30-minute tour showed the red square on the floor where a convict stands with a noose around their neck before the trapdoor opens beneath them.
“The visitors were also taken to a room with a Buddhist altar, where condemned prisoners can meet a religious representative, and the viewing chamber.
‘‘There was the smell of incense. The impression was that of sterile objects in a clean carpeted room,’ said a reporter from broadcaster NTV.
“Footage also showed the room where three staff each push a button which releases the trapdoor – although no one knows which of them actually instigated the action.”
There are currently more than 100 people on death row, including Shoko Asahara, the mastermind behind the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway.
Human rights groups have condemned the conditions on Japan’s death row.
Amnesty International says the condemned have few visits, little exercise and are forced to spend almost all of their time sitting down in their cells. It claims that the harsh conditions on death row are driving inmates insane.
Prisoners are sometimes held for decades and are not warned in advance of the date on which they will be executed. As a result, as far as they know, every day could be their last. Their relatives are told only after the sentence has been carried out.
Nonetheless, 85.6% of those polled in a government survey carried out in 2009 supported the death penalty.
Following this week’s executions, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has gone on record as saying:
“I have no plans to do away with the death penalty. Taking into consideration a situation where the number of heinous crimes has not decreased, I find it difficult to abolish the death penalty immediately”.
In what can only be seen as a deliberate snub to the human rights organisation, Japan executed the three death-row inmates only two days after Amnesty International published its annual capital punishment survey – covering the year 2011 – on 27 March 2012.
According to the survey, China is the world’s top judicial killer, although no figure is given for executions as the Chinese authorities refuse to release precise data.
With the exclusion of China, at least 676 judicial executions took place globally in 2011, compared with 527 the year before. At least 1923 people received the death sentence in 2011, taking the global total on death row to18,750.
Iran comes in second place after China, with at least 360 executions. Other leading executioners were Saudi Arabia (at least 82), Iraq (at least 68), the United States (43), Yemen (at least 41) and North Korea (30).
As we say in our Mission Statement, this blog believes that no nation which commits judicial murder is civilised. By this token, China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the USA and the other executioner states are firmly outside the pale of civilisation. That includes Japan as well, notwithstanding the cherry blossom, the haikus and the Buddhist temples.
Moreover, contrary to what is implied in the remark quoted above by the Japanese Prime Minister, there is no evidence that the death penalty deters individuals contemplating murder.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Das Vierte Reich/The Fourth Reich (6 Feb 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
5. What would Gandhi have said? (30 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.