A citizens' group seeking the Japanese government's ratification of an international treaty to abolish the death penalty has compiled the results of a survey conducted among death-row inmates, providing an unusual glimpse into inmates' thoughts on their crimes, prison conditions, the death penalty, politics and the March 11 disasters.
The survey was conducted by the anti-capital punishment group Forum 90. Of the 120 inmates on death row as of June 2011, 86 inmates, or approximately 70 percent, responded.
"When the time comes, I plan to accept my punishment without resistance. That's the only thing I can do for the bereaved families of the victim," wrote one male inmate.
By law, the justice minister must order the execution of a death-row inmate within six months of a death sentence, but the executions of those appealing for a retrial or whose accomplices are still undergoing trial are generally postponed.
A 72-year-old respondent complained about this inconsistency with which the death penalty is carried out. "The Code of Criminal Procedure says that executions must take place within six months after the death sentence is confirmed. I'm adamantly opposed to the death sentence now," the inmate said, citing the fact that it has been over six months since he was handed down the sentence.
Meanwhile, a 64-year-old inmate and a 39-year-old inmate, both men, said they wanted to be given prior notice about their execution date -- something not done under the current system. "Give death-row inmates the opportunity to emotionally prepare themselves by telling them when they'll be executed ahead of time, so that the inmates themselves can try to reduce their own suffering," the 64-year-old wrote.
"I fully understand the gravity of what I did, but can you understand what it feels like not to know when I'll be taken away to be executed?" the 39-year-old wrote. "It's the same as psychological torture ... I want to live to atone for my crime."
Another death-row inmate, Hiromi Manaka, who was sentenced to death for the murder of two former classmates, wrote: "When you think of death-row inmates, you think of diabolical criminals. But most of them are ordinary people. They're ordinary people who strayed from the right path and committed crimes like murder."
One male inmate referred to the tragedies caused by the March 11 earthquake as the reason for his refusal to respond fully to the survey. "There are people in the disaster areas who are still leading very hard lives, and here I am, receiving three meals a day and the chance to bathe," he wrote, adding: "Knowing that I'm being allowed to live on taxpayers' money while innocent people hit by the disaster are still struggling, I cannot bring myself to respond to the survey."
The survey asked inmates about their retrial appeals and conditions in prison. Some 60 percent of respondents, or 52 people, wrote that they had lodged appeals, and 20 said that they were planning to do the same.
Masaru Okunishi, who was sentenced to death for his involvement in a wine poisoning case that left five dead in Mie Prefecture in 1961, wrote: "My statement is the product of leading questions and force, and is not at all the truth. I am seeking that a retrial be started as soon as possible, and for my innocence to be proven."
As a rule, death-row inmates are confined to an isolation cell. They are barred from having any interactions with other inmates, and have limited opportunities to exchange letters with or receive visits from those from the outside world. Five of the survey's respondents said that they had received no visits or letters from family or friends. One respondent lamented not being able to speak to other people: "I wish I could have just three minutes to talk to a live person."
"I can hear loud laughter from the communal cells. It's pretty impossible for a death-row inmate to laugh like that. Under these circumstances, it's not possible to stay calm, as we're advised to do," wrote Mitsuhiro Kobayashi, who is on death row for armed robbery, murder and arson in the Aomori Prefecture city of Hirosaki in 2001.
Still others had things to say not so much about the death penalty, but about the state of politics today. "I wish they'd stop with the political scuffles in face of such national difficulties," wrote Kenji Ikushima, who is on death row for the murder of the head of a crime syndicate and his wife in the Toyama Prefecture city of Takaoka in 2000. "Please save the victims of the disaster as soon as possible. That is the role of politicians."
According to the Criminal Justice Department of the Ministry of Justice, 124 inmates were on death row as of Nov. 10. According to the Criminal Justice Department of the Ministry of Justice, 124 inmates were on death row as of Nov. 10. Some past justice ministers have refused to order executions based on personal philosophy or beliefs. The ministry currently has a committee set up to discuss the pros and cons of the death penalty system.
Nothing has changed over the years even though the plight of Japan's death row inmates and the mental stress they are all under not being informed before the actual day of their executions has been covered in serious depth reporters for over a decade. A comparison of this article with one written by the Guardian's Justin McCurry of The Guardian Newspaper as far back as 2004 shows how successive governments have failed to address this inhumane practice.
"Japan's appetite for the death penalty is drawing criticism from its own legal commuity and international organisations, writes Justin McCurry
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 12 October 2004 12.04 BST