Voices of death-row inmates get public airing

Kyodo News

The rarely heard voices of death-row inmates were brought to light at a public meeting Saturday in Tokyo.

"I'm alive, but I don't know what will happen tomorrow," a 58-year-old inmate said in his message contributed to Forum 90, a group opposed to capital punishment which organized the public meeting to mark the World Day Against the Death Penalty.

The inmate was responding to a survey Forum 90 sent to 105 death-row inmates through their lawyers and families in July. Among the 77 who responded, two were hanged last month.

"The death penalty is murder by the state, but I'm willing to die if it is the way I pay for my crime. I have no home to return to and this is where I will die," another inmate, 50, said. "As death-row inmates live in order to die, we have to prepare for death, and we make the most of every minute."

A 31-year-old inmate pointed out paradoxical points of the death penalty, saying, "I have stopped regretting what I did, as the death sentence means, 'You should just die, rather than reflect on your crime.' I think people regret what they have done and make efforts not to repeat it as they seek a better future."

"Everything I say might be considered excuses, but I have recognized the preciousness of life and the suffering of crime victims and their families after I committed the most serious crime," a 36-year-old inmate said. "I wish I could have a second and last chance."

Meanwhile, the health conditions of three death-row inmates were reported at the public meeting, which attracted about 250 people.

The reports were based on information from the prisoners' lawyers and families, as they could not contribute messages due to physical impairments or disorders.

Shoko Asahara, 53, founder of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, has not met with lawyers or family members for several months. Prior to that, when he did show up for meetings, they could not communicate with him due to his odd behavior.

Because Asahara, who was convicted over the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other crimes, has not shown up in the interview room, people close to him do not know how he is.

Iwao Hakamada, 72, a former professional boxer who was convicted of the 1966 murder of a family of four despite his own pleas of innocence and a strong effort by supporters to see him exonerated, has not met with his lawyers or family for the past 10 months. He has rejected going to the meetings as his health has deteriorated during his long incarceration.

Hiroko Nagata, 63, a former United Red Army activist involved in slaying a dozen of her comrades, has been bedridden after not receiving appropriate treatment for a brain tumor. During the public forum, it was reported that she is in critical condition.
The Japan Times: Monday, Oct. 13, 2008
(C) All rights reserved


Survey of Death Row Inmates Released

Sunday October 5,2008


A survey by a civic group opposed to capital punishment shows at least 42 of some 100 death-row inmates in Japan have filed for retrials, with many suspecting false charges against them, while 19 more said they are planning to follow suit, the group said Saturday. In the survey by Forum 90, respondents also revealed much agony. One cited the fear of not being told about the execution until the last minute. while another mentioned thinking about the victim of the crime, the Tokyo-based group said.

Forum 90 said it sent questionnaires to death-row inmates in detention centers nationwide in late July through their families and lawyers, and received replies from 76 people ranging in age from their 20s to 80s. According to the Justice Ministry, 102 people are on death row. The Code of Criminal Procedure requires they be executed within six months of the death sentence being confirmed, but the six-month period does not kick in if, for instance, a retrial procedure is pending.

In the 10 years up to 2006, 30 people were executed and it had taken on average seven years and 11 months for the death penalty to be carried out. The average period before being executed has become shorter in recent years with inmates being executed at a quick pace since December last year.

A total of 13 inmates have been executed so far this year, the most in a single year since 1999 when the government started announcing the number of executions. Execution is by hanging in Japan.

Forum 90 said the results of the survey are still being compiled but that nearly half the respondents said they are seeking help from chaplains of some faiths, while many said they see doctors or receive drugs to maintain their health.

Death-row inmates stay in solitary confinement in ‘‘detention centers’’ until their execution, and are not transferred to prisons. They perform no labor and languish in their cells 23 hours a day.

On other aspects of life in detention centers, some cited improvements after the inmate treatment law was instituted in 2005 following reports of assaults on prison inmates by administrators at Nagoya Prison in 2001 and 2002. The provisions of the law on death-row inmates took effect last year, while those on prison inmates came into effect the previous year.

As examples of improvement, one cited the chance to meet and write to friends, while another said the chances of getting physical exercise have increased. Previously, visitation was limited to relatives and lawyers.

The results of the survey will be announced on Oct. 11 at an event to be held in Tokyo to mark the World Day against the Death Penalty on Oct 10, the group said.