Wed Jun 30 17:38:44 MDT 2010
A Walk Through Japan's Execution Chambers
By HIROKO TABUCHI
Published: August 27, 2010
TOKYO - A trapdoor, a Buddha statue and a ring for the noose: the Japanese
government opened up its execution chambers for the first time on Friday,
taking journalists on a tour of Tokyo's main gallows.
The disclosure is seen as a bid by Japan's justice minister, Keiko Chiba, to
stir debate over a practice that is widely supported in here.
Of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, only the United States and
Japan retain capital punishment. Japan currently has 107 inmates on death
row, and no pardon is allowed. From 2000-9, Japan sentenced 112 people to
death and executed 46.
"I called for proper disclosure in the hope that it spurs debate over the
death penalty and criminal sentencing," Ms. Chiba, who opposes the death
penalty, told a news conference earlier this month.
Inmates on death row are not told when they will be executed until the last
minute - a procedure Japanese officials say prevents panic among inmates -
and their family members and lawyers are informed only afterward, as are the
news media. Inmates can remain on death row as long as 40 years, though
executions have occurred on average after about 5 years and 11 months in the
past decade, according to the public broadcast channel NHK. The Justice
Ministry has refused to disclose how it makes decisions to go ahead with
A large majority of Japan's population supports capital punishment. A recent
government survey showed that 86 percent of respondents are in favor of
state executions for the worst crimes.
Meanwhile, Japan has a 99 percent conviction rate, a figure critics
attribute to widespread use of forced confessions. A series of false
convictions have surfaced in recent months, including one of a 63-year-old
man sentence to life in prison for the murder of a 4-year-old girl. He was
released after DNA tests showed he was innocent. Critics say there is a high
possibility that some of those put on death row are innocent.
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