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Wed Jun 30 17:38:44 MDT 2010


A Walk Through Japan's Execution Chambers
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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