Thursday, April 17, 2008

Radio station to air '55 Osaka hanging

Staff writers

Nippon Cultural Broadcasting Inc. will air an audio recording of an execution carried out at the Osaka Detention House in 1955, a spokesman for the AM radio station said Wednesday.

The controversial broadcast, scheduled for May 6, will be the first-ever by a Japanese radio station, according to NCBI public relations supervisor Katsuhiko Shimizu.

The Justice Ministry is known for its secrecy regarding executions and had refused to release even the names of inmates who were executed until last December. The origin of the tape and its authenticity could not be confirmed.

"We obtained the tape a few years ago," Shimizu told The Japan Times, adding he could not reveal any more details regarding the tape's source.

NCBI (1134 kHz) will air the 55-minute program, tentatively titled "Shikei Shikkou" ("Execution of a Death Sentence"), at 10 a.m. on May 6.

The tape obtained by NCBI is approximately 90 minutes long, but only about five to 10 minutes will be aired, Shimizu said.

Conversations between the inmate and the guards, as well as sutra-chanting and the sound of a creaking rope, will be audible in the program, he said.

Although the Justice Ministry has not commented on the authenticity of the recording, Shimizu said that is because it was made by the detention house for educational purposes and the ministry was not involved in the process.

The radio station will change the names heard on the tape to initials to protect the privacy of those involved.

Interviews with family members of the hanged, as well as former prosecutors and prison guards, will also be included in the program.

"There isn't any hysteric shrieking on the tape. Things proceed very mechanically," Shimizu said of the recording.

"We believe that the media have the responsibility to inform the public about capital punishment, especially because the new lay judge system will be introduced next year," he said.

Experts offered mixed reactions about the broadcaster's plan.

Takeshi Tsuchimoto, who heads Hakuoh University's law school in Tochigi Prefecture, said he hopes NCBI's program will trigger further debate on the death penalty before the lay judge system debuts in May 2009.

"Whether people like it or not, they will have to face the problem of (choosing between) life in prison and the death penalty in a year," Tsuchimoto said. "It is (thus) better for the people to know about the process of execution."

Tsuchimoto pointed out that many people in Japan still don't know that death-row convicts are hanged and that they await their execution for years, sometimes decades, never knowing when they will be put to death.

"The Justice Ministry should disclose more information on such issues," he said, criticizing its secrecy policy.

Having said that, Tsuchimoto cast doubt on the radio station's plan, saying broadcasting the recording of an individual execution stains the honor of the deceased and the next of kin.

Makoto Teranaka, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan, which is opposed to Japan's capital punishment system, said he fears the recording will give the public an inaccurate perception of executions.

"If the recording showed that the execution was carried out in an orderly manner, people will think that is how it really is," he said. "The same can be said if it showed a struggle by the death row inmate."

Teranaka said he has learned through interviews with prison guards that executions vary from case to case, and people should be aware that there is no "typical case" when it comes to how death-row inmates react when their number is called.