Friday, August 27, 2010

A room with no view: Japan justice ministry open execution chambers to Japanese media



Japan removed the secrecy behind death penalty executions, in Japan by hanging, with the opening today of Tokyo's main gallows to initiate more public awareness about capital punishment carried out extremely secretly in the country. Japan, along with the United States continue death penalty in spite of repeated requests of the European Union to ban the death penalty. In the past, numerous cases of judicial errors have been committed in both countries Japan and the United States, some cases after decades spent behind the death corridor waiting in Japan by Court detainees.

Executions in Japan are carried out by hanging, the condemned being informed a few hours before the sentence to be executed. The family not being allowed to be warned or contacts prior to the execution.

The media tour at the Tokyo Detention Centre came a month after Justice Minister Keiko Chiba who in the past was an opponent of capital punishment, approved last months the hangings of two convicted of murder. Even the exact location of the execution site is a secret. The reporters who were invited were taken on a bus with curtains closed so that the location couldn't be identified due to "security reasons".

During the 30 minute visit, reporters entered the five rooms of the chamber, such as the execution room equipped with a trap foot-plate and a pulley to hang death row inmates and the so-called "button room" equipped with three buttons to operate the trap foot-plate.

"The ministry has rarely opened execution chambers, other than inspections by lawmakers, saying, "It is not appropriate to open the chambers to the public as they are solemn places." The latest move is expected to open a crack in breaking the secrecy surrounding Japan's capital punishment system and to stir demand for further information disclosure over the death penalty, such as how to pick up death row inmates to hang and how to treat them in their daily lives."

Three other rooms that were shown include the prayer room where prison chaplains talk to an inmate before execution and the inmates can leave a will, a room where the detention house chief officially notifies an inmate of the execution, and one where prosecutors and the detention house chief witness the hanging.

The ministry, however, did not show the rope for hanging an inmate and the space to collect the hanged body of the inmate.


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Japanese TV news programs showed footage from the inspection on Friday, including the execution room, where a red square marked the trapdoor where the condemned stands. The tour was led to a room decorated with a Buddha statue before reaching the death chamber, separated by a curtain. The hanging rope was removed from the ceiling-mounted pulley and the trapdoor was closed. TV footage showed a small room next to the chamber where three executioners simultaneously push a button so none knows who activated the trapdoor.

"Minister Chiba said she still supports abolishing capital punishment, and as a way to spur public debate, ordered that journalists be given a tour of the facilities, which Japanese press said was the first since at least the end of World War II. She also promised to create a ministry panel to discuss the death penalty, including whether it should be stopped."

Last week, a poll revealed that 75.9 per cent of the public supports capital punishment. The poll comes on the heels of two executions in late July, the first time the death penalty was used since the Democratic Party assumed power in September 2009.

Foreign media were generally barred from the visit while the Ministry of Justice gave no clear explanation of the motives behind foreign media discrimination...


Sources: Agencies, Mainichi shimbun, Asahi shimbun, Asahi tv, Youtube, Reporter's notes


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